Social Media & the Art of Editing Your Life
There's always more than meets the eye.
My recent winter break was quiet.
I worked—mostly by myself—at an ice cream shop during its slow season. All of my roommates went home for the break, so I was alone in my apartment. I deep cleaned the kitchen, washed my sheets, and made pasta for dinner too many nights in a row. My mom, brother, and sister were out of town; I saw a couple of movies with my dad and spent a few days at home. I went out with friends once or twice. I often hung out with my boyfriend.
Besides that, it was uneventful. I wouldn’t call it good or bad. It just was.
When I returned to school after the break, I was delighted to see a friend from a previous class in one of my writing classes. We talked a little about the professor, who was unfamiliar to both of us, and what we’d read on the online syllabus, before the conversation turned to the month-long break we’d just returned from.
“So, how was your break?” she asked.
“It was alright,” I replied. “Pretty quiet.”
“But it looked so fun on Instagram!”
She was right. I made dinner for my dad and saw the new Star Wars movie. I went out for drinks a couple of times with friends. I built a gingerbread house at work with my boss and spent an evening with my boyfriend and his family. I shared all of that, and it looked like I had a blast.
While I usually share the good times, I do try to be transparent. I talk about my struggles—an anxiety attack during the company Christmas party, or writer’s block while working on a new project. To me, those aspects of my life are the most important to share, because those are the realest moments.
The way we portray our lives on Instagram, like other social media platforms, is curated. We often don’t share our worst moments, our lonely days, our failures; we share our excitement, our adventures, our successes. Even when we do share those candid “bad” days, in a bid to appear relatable, honest, even entertaining, it’s still something we’re choosing to share.
For example, I have shared online that I experience panic attacks. I talk about how scary they are, how intense they can be, how frequently (or infrequently) I have them—but I don’t really talk about them. I don’t share that, once, when I was struggling to breathe and couldn’t be calmed down for almost thirty minutes, my boyfriend almost called 911. I don’t share that, sometimes, I hyperventilate so hard that I throw up. I don’t share those things because I don’t want to. I see those details as gross or embarrassing, so I leave them out. I’m being open by sharing that I have panic attacks, but I’m still choosing which details I want to share.
Though I am aware that I do this, I still forget this when I’m scrolling. I see friends and family having fun and wonder if I’m missing out. It’s not hard to feel overwhelmed and inadequate when you’re looking at photos of graduations, new babies, and vacations. I have to constantly remind myself that what I’m seeing is just as curated as my own feed.
It’s important to be cognizant of the way social media affects our view of others, including ourselves. I think I’m often transparent about my own mental health, but I don’t share that much. A post here or there, maybe a link to something I wrote, but rarely the way it affects my day-to-day life.
Similarly, I didn’t post about feeling lonely without my family for the holidays, or about feeling restless without schoolwork to occupy my time. Looking back at my feed, I can see how my friend thought my break looked “so fun” online—my life looked busy and exciting, because that was the way I made it look.
Social media gives you the tools to edit your life. Just remember that everyone else has those same tools.