How Our Social Media Lies Are Damaging

By Chelsea Fagan

I have some good news that I’ve been sitting on for a while, that I haven’t yet “cashed in on," a.k.a. shared on social media. (No, I’m not engaged; it has nothing to do with my love life. But that would be my first guess, too.) While it’s not something enormous or life-changing, there is still something about saving news that is feeling better and better to me lately, as though there is this perfect, in-between moment between knowing something good is happening and sharing it with the world. The more I can draw out that moment and keep the joy to myself (and immediate family and friends), the better.

But the desire to keep things private is more than that; it’s also a desire to keep the balance in my life — the balance between how perfect and happy things appear on social media and how accurate and full a representation that is of my life.

It’s tempting to turn our online lives into highlight reels of the best and most visually pleasing things — to only announce our best news and paint a picture of our lives the way we wish they were in reality. And I admit that in many cases, I do this — because people like seeing the happy things, and it feels good to share them. And with Instagram all but turning beautiful snapshots of life into an arms race, having only good news to deliver isn't the only pressure we face; packaging that news in the most beautiful, well-edited photo is, too. We curate and manage ourselves into the aesthetically-pleasing and near-perfect people we wish we were, because everyone else is doing it. To let a little bit of ugly, flawed humanity peek through is akin to wincing during a fight.

Related: What To Do When You're The Friend Who's Struggling

This fight to seem as successful and happy as possible — while it may help us do things like land jobs or demand more money — ultimately makes us miserable.

Advertisement
I have talked before about the profound psychological damage caused by following people who present a "perfect" package on the internet, and I’ve had to go on several great social media purges to rid myself of those who simply stressed me out with their ability to be “on” at all times. People present an online package of themselves that we know is incomplete.

I know a girl who goes on beautiful vacations and has traveled much of the world, but who in real life has been dealing with unexpected, prolonged unemployment. I know a guy who announces all the great news of his moderately successful band, but in reality has to pull double shifts at restaurants to make ends meet. If you didn’t know these people, you’d never know that their online personas are barely half the whole story. It makes you wonder how many people we only know superficially; how many people do we assume are happy and fulfilled when they're really struggling?

This fight to seem as successful and happy as possible — while it may help us do things like land jobs or demand more money — ultimately makes us miserable. Because only we know the truth of our lives, which are likely very human, and therefore filled with both success and defeat, sadness and joy.
We know ourselves intimately, and we see all of the things that don’t make it online because they're not “highlight reel-worthy” — and we have to live with them anyway. We know when we’re feeling like crap and still posting some happy, uplifting, perfectly shot image. We know when we strategically stage a photo so that the mess behind it is just out of the frame. We know that we don’t photograph our bodies on certain days, and that we make sure to put ourselves into certain flattering angles and positions. We see our flaws and thus feel all the more empty when we perceive that someone else doesn’t have those flaws. Everyone is in an invisible race to seem the most perfect, and no one can really win.

Related: How To Be A Professional 20-Something

It makes you wonder how many people we only know superficially; how many people do we assume are happy and fulfilled when they're really struggling?

That’s why I decided to balance out the good news — even the stuff I’m holding onto — with a little more honesty about the full spectrum of life. Normally, I’m careful about what I post on Instagram and, like most people, make an effort to put only the happiest and nicest-looking things on my page. But I know that life is easier on everyone (myself included) when we are allowed to be fallible and human. I long to discuss insecurities and failures with the same open, collaborative spirit with which we share our triumphs. I want us to be able to congratulate one another not just for our most impressive feats, but for living to fight or to self-improve another day.

So I started #totalhonestytuesday, where I (and hopefully you) will, once a week, share something I’d never normally share on social media, and talk about what’s happening in that part of my life. This week, it was my decimated checking account after I paid off a bunch of bills and went on a vacation.

Related: What I Learned From Paying A Third Of My Income On Rent, And How You Can Avoid It

Next week, it will be something totally different. And each week, we’ll be gathering up the #totalhonestytuesday posts you all share and putting them here on TFD, so we can take a moment to look at one another’s real lives — not just the ones that look perfect on social media.

I can say with certainty that sharing even one element of my life that I would normally deem “not flattering” and keep off of my public profile has felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders. Even when I am frank about a lot of my insecurities or failures in articles, I still — like everyone else — feel that draw to keep a happy social media presence. And it only ends up making me more miserable. Hopefully, in being honest with one another about the fact that we aren’t perfect (no matter how well-photographed our lives are), we will feel more free to live better and to be true to ourselves, because we will understand that there is no one we need to keep up with.

Next: The "Professional Introvert": What It Is And How To Handle Being One
Advertisement

More from Work & Money

Four years ago, my life was exactly where I wanted it: I was working as a senior editor at a major glossy magazine. My first young adult novel had just ...
After months of waiting and countless discussions about what the future holds for our favorite television characters, Shondaland shows are finally back. ...
Just after my son’s first birthday, I was on the phone with my mom, grappling over a gut-wrenching decision. I was scheduled to go on a business trip but...
Refinery29 joined the Clinton Foundation for a tour of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to get a firsthand look at the experiences of the women and girls who live ...
I get so nervous before job interviews — sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in my stomach. It’s really not fun. But once I’m sitting down with the ...
Fifty percent off your purchase here. 1,000 free miles there. When it comes to credit cards, the benefits are easy to see — while the downsides are often ...
As the host of RIOT's Woke Bae, we already know comedian Phoebe Robinson is funny AF while getting serious about major issues like feminism and ...
You know what's easy? Spending money. It's the best way to get what you want right now. Except...this is not sustainable. Those little luxuries add up ...
If the new phrase for the office BFF is the "work wife," then is a good boss or mentor your "work mom" or "work dad"? Part authority figure, part dispenser...
12:45 p.m. — I have a dryer, rare in Shanghai, so my friend runs home to get his laundry and then does a load at my place
Ah, the job interview. Getting one always feels like a win — your résumé passed the test, and you've moved on to the next round. Writing the cover letter...
Working in the service industry is an easy way to get an (often unwanted!) glimpse into other people's personal lives. Whether you waited tables at a ...
Recently, I was reminiscing about my financial education. Or maybe I should put that in quotes: “financial education.” In 10th grade, we created a budget ...
11 p.m. — Make some more bad decisions and send a text for delivery of some illicit substances but he misses my text, which is probably a good thing ...