I muddled through the fifth outfit in a row, hating everything I put on. This time it wasn’t because nothing fit. No, I’ve been working hard on my health and fitness for three years, so everything was feeling good in that department. Honestly, there was really no good reason for me to furiously be pulling jackets and shirts on and off, feeling discouraged by the 42 year old woman looking back at me.
“I look matronly.”
“I’m not ‘cool’ anymore.”
“My clothes are outdated and I have no fashion sense.”
Welcome to the jungle of all the self-limiting thoughts running through my head as I stared back at myself in my full-length mirror.
“I need to face the facts. I just don’t fit in with this ideal that I see on social media.”
And, there it was. Comparison had made its way into my mindset. Up to that point, I prided myself on being keenly aware of the difference between virtual “reality” and actual reality. But, alas, I too had fallen victim to chasing the Instagram image of who I thought I should be.
That day I was headed to an event where I knew I’d be around women who were considered “influencers” with tens of thousands of followers. One in particular is the daughter of a good friend and I’ve proudly watched her build a full-fledged career out of her lifestyle blog and social media presence. I knew the outfits would be on point. Hair, makeup and accessories would be perfectly coordinated and styled. I was going to be behind the curtain of what would surely be posted on social media later, and I wanted to blend in if, God forbid, I ended up in any photos or stories.
I finally pieced together an outfit I felt was reasonably stylish and headed out the door. On the way I over, I questioned from where this insecurity was coming. These were people I know very well, far beyond the social media posts. They are real people who have I seen honestly and painstakingly work their way into their current success. Yet there I was feeling that I didn’t measure up. I found myself comparing my busy mom/full time job/wife life to carefully curated photos on social media. I knew better than to forget that Instagram is full of photos that only represent an instance in time and not necessarily the complete picture. As a photographer and curator of content, I understand this better than most! Still, like many other women, I too had fallen headfirst in this dangerous trap.
As it so often happens in my life, the universe didn’t wait long to slap me right in the face. No less than five minutes after arriving at the event, I could feel something was off. Yes, everyone looked picture perfect on the outside, as expected. But, there was something in the air that felt off. I greeted my friend and though she looked perfect from her gorgeous hat to her stylish espadrille sandals, her eyes screamed with heartbreak. Her normally bright and bubbling personality had an unmistakable hollowness. It was a different demeanor than I’d ever seen from her, and certainly not what her recent Instagram photos projected. I soon learned that in the last couple weeks she and her husband had secretly faced the heartbreaking pain of a miscarriage.
My heart sank into my stomach, and it felt like God had grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me to the core.
Struggle escapes no one. You can do your best to create the best life you can, but no one is immune to hardship and change. While I was busy trying to hide all my own insecurities behind the perfect jean jacket, I forgot that we are all just humans weed-wacking our way through a thorny life. While I was worried about which necklace to wear, she was worried about keeping it together at this event where just weeks before she had planned to announce her pregnancy.
Because I know this young woman fairly well, I knew without a doubt she would share this with her followers even though it did not fit in with the globe-trotting, stylish, albeit authentic, persona she has on Instagram. She is honest and real, and this is likely the first hardcore blow she has faced since her rising success. She did, in fact, share the news in a raw and authentic way, and was met with thousands of comments of support and notes from those who have stood in her shoes. Her current trial does not make her exciting experiences shown in her previous posts any less real. It’s just now she has the opportunity to take something painful and personal, and show her followers that they are not alone in facing trials.
Don’t get me wrong! I absolutely hate that I had to be reminded of this lesson through someone else’s pain. I wish I could have gone to that event and remembered that I can stand proudly on my own whether or not I put together the perfect outfit. I also hate that my friend is being forced into publicly confronting her painful experience, but I’m deeply proud of her because she is teaching thousands of women who follow her online the exact lesson that I learned the other day in person. As actress Adrienne C. Moore said, “The truth is, we all face hardships of some kind, and you never know the struggles a person is going through. Behind every smile, there’s a story of a personal struggle.” I hope you will remember this the next time you are staring at yourself in the mirror muddling through the fifth outfit in a row trying to measure up to an ideal created in a photo on Instagram. Struggle escapes no one.