Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Telling the Truth: Behind the Smiling Photos on Facebook

I am not the only one.  We post our best photos on Facebook, and rightly so. I personally decided long ago that social media was not a place I was going to complain, vent, or air dirty laundry. You might do that, and I say go for it. My decision works for me. However, there's a drawback for those of us who, on social media platforms, never seem to be in a bad mood. People never see us publicly experience anger, sadness, heart ache, and despair. We are not seen to experience the whole gamut of human emotions.   "I can't imagine you ever having a bad day," someone just wrote in a comment to me the other day, "You just always seem so happy."
What actually prompted today's article is that just last week I got sucked into Facebook's "your-life-is-perfect" illusion myself. I was looking at someone's perfect profile, saw a perfect photo, read a perfect comment that then perfectly triggered a painful wound in my heart, and I lost it...big time.  I cried deeply for an hour, with two friends witnessing me.   "Remember," one friend said empathetically, "Facebook never tells the whole truth." Yes, I could remember that even in the midst of my breakdown. But even with remembering that fact, it surprised me how real the illusion felt. The next day I shook the veil off of my eyes and determined to write about my experience about this illusionary hole I have seen countless friends also fall into.  If anyone else out there is struggling with Social Media Illusion Syndrome today, I want to hand you a gentle, loving tissue. I can't make it all better for whoever's profile is sinking you into depression tonight.  I'm so sorry that he has his arm around her and not you, and the picture he posted makes it look like they're back together. I'm so sorry that she looks so skinny and tan from her recent trip to the beach when you feel so fat today. I'm so sorry that their marriage looks so perfect and their children look so sweet when your family is completely falling apart. Nothing makes any of it better. What you're feeling is just hard. Something I can do is share the behind-the-scenes truth of some of my own "smiling" photos. It might not ease your pain, but perhaps we can break a bit of the illusionary spell so that all the people in those photos you're looking at on Facebook look a bit more human again.


Behind Smiling Photo #1: New York City, New York

Look at that big smile! Two friends invited me to go out to dinner with them to the high-end restaurant pictured behind me in this photo. One friend was not only my host but also my ride home. I felt pressure to say yes, but there was absolutely no way I could afford it. Should I refuse and say I wasn't hungry? Should I walk around the neighborhood until they were done eating? In this "I don't have a care in the world" photo, I was completely freaking out, especially after walking inside minutes later and seeing the prices on the menu. During the whole meal, I did mental gymnastics starting with backflips of "I can't afford this!" and trying to nail that perfect landing on "I'm abundant and I have everything I need." At the same time I was doing these inner acrobats, I was trying my very best to stay present during the conversation so they wouldn't feel my freak out stress.  When the bill came, and I reached for it with sweaty hands, one of my friends effortlessly said with a smile, "I've got this. I want to support your gift economy experiment." I thanked her softly. I went home shaking in awe with how much that experience stretched me.

Behind Smiling Photo #2: Sochi, Russia

This photo was taken in Sochi, Russia after I had experienced a full toilet paper roll of an emotional breakdown. I was there to do intense energy work for the country of Russia. The decades of sadness I transmuted through my body was so thick that I couldn't get out of bed for three days. I sank so low and so deep that I started to doubt everything I stood for.  Not only did living in a gift economy feel like a really dumb idea, I also felt like a failure as a musician, and just as a person in general. I felt scared and embarrassed to share my feelings with anyone. I was traveling in Sochi completely alone, so there was no one to even try to get me out of bed. On the fourth day, I was very weak but I made myself get up and learn how to take the city bus up to the mountains. I was walking very slowly, but I made it here to this bridge and put the timer on to take this photo. This pose was me being so proud of myself for getting through some of my very darkest nights of the soul. I can tell you right now that the caption that accompanied this photo said absolutely nothing about any of that.

Behind Photo #3: Granada, Spain

I had just broken up with the love of my life and I was attempting to "move on". Weeks later I met someone in Europe, and we experienced many beautiful places and memories in Spain together. A couple hours after this smiling photo was taken, I asked my travel companion to just hold me as I cried in his arms. I didn't tell him why. Graciously, he never asked me to explain myself. I cried as he held me every night that week. I wrote a song about my broken heart in that garden to the left of the photo, and the creation process of songwriting helped me immensely. The caption I posted with this photo shared the truth about how I felt about the beauty of the space, but nothing more: "Enjoying this beautiful and refreshing retreat home in a small Spanish village in the countryside."

Smiling Photo #4: Salt Lake City, Utah

This is a recently taken professional photo, and I wanted to feature it here to further undo the spell. I'm a big fan of professional photographers and presenting professional photos publicly. I will continue to do so. However, when we find ourselves comparing our human mirror images to the perfection of our professionally edited photos...it most certainly does not go well. For example, in my mirror I have wrinkles, grey hair, chin hair, less than perfect white teeth, and my Celtic Irish/English skin is quite pale. Can I see any of those physical traits about me here? I've done so much work around true beauty in the last several years that the confidence I'm developing to tell my body's truth is becoming my hottest physical trait. I believe we'll all enjoy each others' edited professional photos more than ever as we also learn to celebrate each other being imperfectly flawed and ridiculously human. Confidence to walk boldly within our flaws is the new sexy. 
The moments of our excitement and happiness that we post amongst all our life's tragedies are indeed real. They are not an illusion. The illusion occurs when we believe the posted smiling images is the only emotion we know. "You just always seem so happy" is not a compliment to give me or each other. To me this comment only means that you've temporarily been sucked into the social media illusionary vortex. Let's get each other out so we can like ourselves more.
I don't believe telling the truth means I have to rant and rave on Facebook to balance all my smiles out. Instead, I believe telling the truth means we can look into each others' eyes and see real humans who posted one window into one moment, remembering that the image on our screen is a fully emotional, messy, colorful human being.

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