Am I living an authentic life? What does that even mean, anyway?
I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when I noticed two of my friends posted links to the same ESPN article. It was a powerful profile on the life, public and private of Madison Holleran–and her eventual suicide.
Its revolving theme? Her social media. Madison was a promising student and star athlete, attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she ran track. She, like most other college students, also had an Instagram account.
How could the seemingly-happy, smiling college freshman in the photos on Madison’s Instagram end up jumping off of a nine-story Philadelphia parking garage?
Everyone presents an edited version of life on social media. People share moments that reflect an ideal life, an ideal self.
Checking Instagram is like opening a magazine to see a fashion advertisement. Except an ad is branded as what it is: a staged image on glossy paper.
Instagram is passed off as real life.
The truth is, no matter how wonderful life looked like through filtered Instagram snapshots, Madison was having a hard time.
No one can ever really know why Madison Holleran took her own life. We can speculate to the cows come home on what her friends, family, or therapists could have done to intervene. We might think of our own experiences with suicide–how we could have helped.
Who knows? I don’t.
There’s a huge buzzword in the blogosphere right now–“authenticity.” We need to be living authentically. We must create an authentic life.
The problem? No one seems to truly define what this “authentic life” is, and while an argument can be made that the definition is intentionally made vague so that you can “form your own definition”, I think the issue is a little deeper than that.
What is curious to me is that so many preaching the Gospel of Authentic Life™ seem to also have the most curated, branded lives. They style their supposedly candid Instagram photos (you cannot tell me that all four members of your family wear your brand’s color palette EVERY DAY, ma’am). They say the right things in their weekly re-caps. They’re relentlessly positive.
And I think that’s dangerous.
Some of this is just very strategic marketing. We’ve gotta hustle, y’all, and I get why it’s important to present an image that our ideal client (whoever that is) might want to have for themselves. I do. I get it. It’s savvy.
I’m no stranger to this life-curation thinking, either. I do it all the time! I’ve strategically presented the best parts of my life to the Internet because I’m scared of what it means to present the uglier parts.
How will what I say on social media impact my career?
Who hasn’t taken a selfie and then agonized over which filter to use to make sure my eyes look a little bluer, my eyebrows look a little more defined, my double-chin a little less prominent?
Who hasn’t waited until the exact right time to post a Facebook status for maximum ‘likes’?
Who hasn’t felt just a little bit cooler when a tweet goes mini-viral?
(I’m sure that someone is reading thinking [well, I haven’t! Not me!] and to that I say: hooray! good for you! I am but a weak millennial.).
I don’t want us to stop doing any of those things I listed above. But only posting the happy-go-lucky portraits of ourselves, those carefully curated, branded images of our lives and experience?
That’s not living an “authentic life,” blogger lady, and I won’t believe you for a second when you tell me that it is.
I want us to post more selfies. I want us to send photos of our happy, cheesy grin faces into the world. I want us to celebrate our lives, our experiences. And there’s no better way to do that than by sending that out into the digital world for everyone to see!
But I also want us to live in a world where it’s okay for us to be vulnerable on social media.
There is no guarantee that posting the sad and frustrating parts of life on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram will lead to fewer articles like the one I posted.
But there are so many benefits to making our online spaces safe for people’s unfiltered (pardon the pun), unbranded thoughts.
A world where we can openly talk about our struggles with mental illness and other life struggles is a world I want to live in.
Seems pretty authentic to me.