These days we’re all professional photographers. From Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat, we effortlessly snap, crop, tint and post with the touch of a screen. We put our lives on display for all of our “friends” to see. (According to Facebook, 1,014 of my nearest and dearest regularly lay eyes on my posts… And we wonder why kids feel lonely in the age of constant “connection”…) These photos share some of the biggest (and smallest) details of our lives– from proposals to graduations to the foam designs atop our favorite latté.
And yet, something is missing. Something profoundly significant. Something simple yet so fundamental that our oversight seems unbelievably reckless.
That something is the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, of course the silly photos of a celebratory birthday bash or the perfectly positioned selfie at the top of a hike are real and worthy of sharing. Indeed, they often spread love and joy to those who view them. But they also breed jealousy, insecurity and shame– and that’s the stuff that no one talks about.
The truth is, the lives that are depicted by these feeds of photos are only partial truths. We see the photo of the “A” a student gets on a test, but no sign of the emotional breakdown she experienced while studying for said test. We see groups of girls hugging and smiling, but no one sees the girl at home who was intentionally excluded from the party. We see girls posting proud photos of their bikini bodies, but no indication of the starvation diet they’ve been suffering through to achieve their camera-ready figure. We see photos of couples hugging and kissing, but no hint of the physical abuse that continues to plague nearly 50% of women in the United States… The costs of these partial truths are very real, and absolutely worthy of discussion.
Certainly outlets like Facebook and Instagram are not the appropriate venues for sharing our deepest fears and problems. (In fact we’ve all seen those posts that reveal just a little too much information, drudging up other uncomfortable emotions like embarrassment or pity).
The point, though, is that all too often, we compare ourselves to the unattainable standards created by these carefully selected story lines and wind up feeling unsuccessful, envious and ashamed. Worse yet, we feel compelled to one up each other and only perpetuate the cycle by posting more and more of these picturesque moments. We emotionally airbrush our photos, edit out the suckage and pretend like it’s all good.
In order to protect our egos, we sacrifice the kind of authenticity that allows us to feel connected to others, seen for who we are and be truly understood.
So what can we do about it? I don’t foresee Facebook or Instagram going anywhere anytime soon, and heck, I’m just as guilty as anyone else of posting my favorite photos for everyone to see. Realistically, the answer is not to take away these photos or their outlets. Instead, we must increase the number of opportunities for authentic, honest and wholehearted self-expression.
It is absolutely critical that each of us– girls, boys and parents alike– intentionally seek out and integrate experiences that encourage honest communication and rock solid support. For example, a growing number of “girls groups” and conferences are being facilitated at schools, synagogues and churches, bringing greater awareness to the real-life challenges plaguing girls everywhere. In these safe environments, girls can break down communication barriers, speak their truths and share tools and strategies for coping. Organizations like Girl Scouts, National Charity League and One Circle Foundation feature curricula and guest speakers that support the development of personal authenticity and healthy identity formation. Furthermore, less formal coaching groups (like the ones I offer here! Click the pink link for more info) can easily be brought to a classroom or living room, offering girls the chance to be real, connect and evolve.
It’s natural to want to put your best foot forward and share the highlights of your life with those around you. But when we sacrifice authenticity, we fail to honor our perfectly flawed selves and inadvertently encourage others to hide, too.
So speak your truth. In words or photos, private or public. Because you are worthy of being seen.