problem with a picture perfect life
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The Problem With A Picture Perfect Life

I’m working on a new document for our country, and I’m going to call it, “The Declaration of Interdependence.”

Forget the current Declaration of Independence. I mean, let’s get real, people — the pursuit of happiness is a thing of the past.

But the pursuit of perfection? In a way that is seen and “liked” by everyone else? Now that is 100% our national M.O. nowadays.

Don’t agree? Witness the proliferation of perfect as illustrated by our online profiles. Perfect selfies, perfect pets, perfect children, perfect meals, perfect vacations, perfect humor, and so on.

Now, dig deep and think about the lengths you’ve gone to in projecting a perfect existence.

Want me to go first?

My friend once threw a perfectly fabulous party. Then someone snapped a perfectly staged photo, where everyone looked, well, perfect… and I was the only that blinked. And also had a perfectly protruding belly roll. Plus a perfectly captured double chin.

I was mortified when the picture began to spread far and wide on social media.

I complained to my husband, and he agreed it wasn’t the most perfect portrayal of me.

“Why don’t you ask her to delete it?” he asked.

“No way. That’s totally lame,” I replied. And then a split second later: “But you could say you think it’s a bad shot and ask her to take it down.”

He did, and then I became what I least like in a person: the perfect asshole that can’t stand anything short of perfection.

I’ve got this whole problem with perfection on my mind as I’ve been following the news about the horrible, tragic death of a Long Island woman, Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny — a successful doctor, apparently loving wife, and by all accounts, wonderful mother of three beautiful kids — that OD’d and was left to die in an apartment lobby after partying all night in NYC.

Her family and friends described her actions as “atypical,” and noted she was human, which people forgot because she was also so “perfect.”

This as evidenced in large measure by the stunning pictures of the former beauty pageant queen and her glorious life, richly documented on social media.

Not like she wasn’t the same as all of us — hell, there are 200 million people on Instagram sharing more than 20 billion images. More than one billion people are active on Facebook. And that’s just two platforms out of fifty or more than people around the globe utilize daily.

In fact, the ONLY platform I can think of where people routinely talk about “failure,” is LinkedIn (296 million users) — but of course those posts always use loser propositions as the powerful lead-in to spring sensational stories of inevitable success (like this one).

But could Cerveny’s life be as perfect as it seemed? If she was out partying ’till the wee hours on hard drugs there must have been something up and running amok.

And don’t we all have stuff we’d rather sweep under the carpet rather than expose to the whole wide world? Research says YES — according to a study on self-censorship on Facebook from 2013, 71% of those studied made at least some last-minute change to a status post. Now this could be as simple as correcting a grammatical error (which I frequently do =), or as more detailed as to stop yourself from spreading the “wrong” messages to what you perceive as your audience.

I know that I write comments in reaction to provocative posts, and read, then re-read them, until I usually delete. I’ve had debates with my BBFs about whether or not our comments are welcome, despite the fact the very nature of social media is to engage and interact! We worry that if we say the “wrong” thing, others will think that we’re not quite so… perfect.

In a recent conversation I overheard between two teen girls, they talked about the “social suicide” it is to be without your phone and constantly interacting online. This worries me because Dove and Twitter found this in a recent study for their #SpeakBeautiful campaign around women’s self-esteem and social media:

• 8 out of 10 women encounter negative comments on social media that critique women’s looks
• Women are 50 percent more likely to say something negative about themselves than positive on social media
• 82 percent of women surveyed feel the beauty standards set by social media are unrealistic
• 4 out of every 5 negative tweets Twitter identified about beauty and body image are women talking about themselves

InStyle did their own study in reaction to this, and found this:

“We’re all addicted to social media, with 95 percent finding time throughout the day to scroll through our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds. And the thing we’re looking for most? Compliments. Of those surveyed, 89 percent said that getting a “like” on social media feels like a compliment, while 82 percent said compliments on social media improve their self-esteem. We also found that those feel-good vibes have a domino effect: The majority of women said that after receiving a social media compliment they are motivated to post more compliments on others’ feeds. This practice, whether in the form of complimenting a friend’s outfit in an Instagram post or tweeting something positive about your colleague’s accomplishments, may seem casual at first, but the effect is lasting. A whopping 75 percent concluded that social media has strengthened their personal relationships.”

Here’s the rub: I believe what we’re actually addicted to is showing only our best, happiest, most amazing photos on social sites, or the things that we think will garner the most sympathy. When I see a post with someone in the hospital or grieving a parent, I know that this isn’t about perfection, but it is about being uplifted… which is in some ways asking for help to feel that even though things aren’t perfect now, they will get better. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

But ultimately the problem with projecting a picture perfect life is that none of us really have that — but to the people who love us, we are, as my old friend Pink likes to say, fuckin’ perfect.

So if you see me asking my friend to please repost that pic of my friends looking perfectly happy at that perfect party, while my perfect belly roll and perfect double chin bear witness — just know that I’m over projecting perfect, and into owning the imperfections that make us all unique. Doesn’t that sound like the perfect plan?

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