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A Reminder to Young Girls: Perfection Isn't the Goal

I was listening to a podcast yesterday that struck a chord, because it unpacked something that's been bothering me, particularly for the last few weeks.

The podcast episode was called The Problem with a Pinterest-Perfect Life, and it's worth a listen, especially if this topic hits home. In it, the hosts describe social media as a highlight reeland I couldn't have said it better myself.

In fact, this is what bothered me; my inability to phrase the problem as precisely as they had. A few weeks ago, I was spending time at a friend's house when her 16-year-old daughter started telling me about how amazing some Insta-famous girl's life was. My friend's daughter had never met this girl, and yet she was convinced she lived the perfect life: a fashion blogger with thousands of fans and flawless photos that painted the picture of a girl whose every waking moment is exceptional.

I grew frustrated the more she gushed about her girl-crush. Here she was, a beautiful girl, in a gorgeous home with more talent than she knows that will undoubtedly take her places in life. If anything, I would say she has it better. But she doesn't have a glam squad documenting her every smile with the perfect lighting, so what's the point?

I don't remember exactly what I said to her in response, but I recall fumbling over my words trying to explain that these were just pictures. That this girl was no better than her, and it's one thing to be inspired by someone else's fame, but to take it all in with a grain of salt. And remember that someone's pretty circumstances didn't make hers uglier.

I'd already lost her. She was sucked back into her phone, swiping through photos enviously. That's when I remembered, or maybe really realized, I'm old. What do I know? I don't even have Snapchat.

That short conversation stuck with me, because although it's very different, I constantly hear from my extended family, whom I see maybe twice a year, about how much fun I'm having. I must be. They've seen my Instagram.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm one happy girl, and extremely fortunate. And because I choose not to document my hours-long conference calls and the tantrums I have when I can't get everything to fit in my kitchen cabinets, all they see is the best of the best. Me, out with friends, drink-in-hand, smiling ear to ear. Do I do it often? Of course I do. I'm unmarried without kids. My boyfriend and I have two disposable incomes and a borderline-unhealthy love of wine. Plus our families are 3,000 miles away, so friends and each other are really all we have.

But it bothers me a bit each time I hear it. You two have so much fun! It's an odd thing to be offended by, and it's not a lie. I am having fun. I'm also at times having anything but fun, like anyone does. I guess I'm just surprised that even my older family members are taking my experience at face value. So how should I expect a teenager who's never known a life without social media to understand that photos are an instant in time, stripped of context?

The point is this: to all teens, tweens, young adults and not-so-young adults, remember to take a photo for what it is. A moment in time, with no peripheral vision, likely filtered to look even better than the reality of the moment. The person in it is flawed, even if they do have a glam squad correcting every imperfection. Please don't compare yourself to your Insta idols, because it just plain isn't fair. And mastering the perfect selfie to convince everyone you're having the best time isn't going to make you happier.

I can't help but think of a particular photo when I think about how pictures remove all context. It pops up every now and again (thank you, timehop) and each time I see it, I'm taken back to that night. A happy photo, not a particularly happy memory.

There are two people who know how this night began. Me, and the guy that dumped me out of the blue about an hour before this photo was taken (not the guy pictured, obviously). When I look at this, I'm reminded of how shocked I was. Of how the moment he left, I turned to my closet and pulled out a dress and decided, I don't care. I'm not hurt. And I'm going out. 

I will never give how to deal with a break-up advice, but my hunch is, this wasn't the healthiest option. And you better believe the sobbing and grieving came later. But I remember it because I remember wanting him to see this and think he had no effect on my happiness, which wasn't true. I was going to trick him into believing I was more than okay. This was in the early days of Facebook, before the other outlets came along.

This is how I imagine some of the celebrities and social influencers to feel as they scroll through their own feeds. An archive of curated moments, designed to appear flawless, no matter what the preceding day, or even hours, held. And laughing at times, thinking, if only people knew...

To refer again to the podcast that started this whole thing, one of the cohosts described Instagram as today's version of a magazine. Except the ultra-filtered content isn't just celebrities. It's friends and classmates, all desperately trying to live up to their own impossible standards. And it doesn't stop at teens. I wonder sometimes as I'm scrolling through Crate-and-Barrel-perfect photos of my own friends' homes how much they kill themselves to compose this image of the perfect house. The perfect family. The perfect marriage.

I'm not condoning broadcasting your next emotional breakdown to the world. But the next time you're scrolling through a stranger's photos and sighing because you'll never have their hair/home/face/life, remember they may never really have it, either.

As the aunt of a niece who will grow up in a world where social media has always existed, the only way I can describe it is wary, bordering on terrified. Girls, and boys, don't aim for perfect, not just because it's unattainable, but because you're missing out on so much good stuff in the flaws.

Mistakes should be celebrated. Modesty is born out of embracing and sharing those mistakes. Success is born out of recognizing and learning from those mistakes. And don't mix up the two. Flaws are not mistakes, but they're equally valuable. Find role models who proudly put both on display.


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