Is social media making us ‘fake’?
There’s been a lot of talk lately about social media (and, by extension, blogging) and how ‘fake’ it all is.
The perfectly-staged Instagram photos. The outfits that don’t seem remotely suitable for any “real life” situation. The always-chirpy, unicorns-and-rainbows personalities so many bloggers seem to posses. All of those macarons and Starbucks cups and … pineapples. Seriously: what is it with all the pineapples?
In Blog Land, everyone’s homes are pristine and white, everyone’s closets are filled with endless amounts of designer clothes, and everyone’s days are spent drinking perfect cups of coffee (with the froth on the top placed just so) in cute little cafes with picturesque, Instagrammable interiors. There are no bad days, no moments of stress, no sinks full of dirty dishes, no chipped nailpolish or really bad hair days. It just can’t be real, can it?
Well, no: it can’t, and it isn’t. As I mentioned in my post on how you can like shoes and still be an intelligent adult, most bloggers (myself included) carefully select which aspects of their lives they want to share with the internet. I, for instance, will happily share my random acts of stupidity, and I’m not ashamed to admit when I’ve had a bad week, or am feeling a little low: I think those things are important to share, because they’re honest and relatable, and help remind people that there’s more to my life than just shoes and dresses, and endless posts about lipstick.
When it comes to photography, however, I’m a lot more picky about what I’ll choose to show. I don’t photograph the outfits I hated, the lipstick that made me look like a corpse, or the state of my floors at the end of a busy week. Why would I? For that matter, why would anyone?
The fact is, I don’t think it’s just fashion bloggers who are “guilty” (I’m putting that word in inverted commas, because I’m not sure there’s an actual reason to feel guilt) of trying to present their best selves to the world. It’s certainly easier for bloggers, because people only see the things we decide to show them, but that doesn’t mean that people in “real life” don’t at least attempt to do the same thing. Be honest: if you invited someone to your home, would you give it a quick clean and tidy before they arrived? Would you comb your hair, make sure your clothes weren’t stained, maybe buy some fresh flowers to put in the window? Or would you just greet them in your pyjamas, with the house in chaos around you?
I think most people would do the former: I know I would. When we bought our new house, for instance, we threw a house-warming party, and invited around 30 people. I spent the entire day of the party cleaning the house, and tidying it up, including packing away some things that would normally be out on display, like the dog’s bed and food bowls, and all of his toys, (I have to add here that the dog was spending the night with my parents, so he wasn’t left without food or toys!) so that our party guests weren’t constantly tripping over them. I also moved some pieces of furniture, so that people would have more room to circulate, and wouldn’t be knocking over ornaments or banging into random belongings all night.
My assumption was that these are the kind of things most people do when they’re expecting a large number of guests. When people started to arrive, and be shown around the house, however, I became increasingly embarrassed by their reactions to how tidy it was. “OMG, it’s so CLEAN!” they kept saying in amazement. “How do you keep it so tidy? Where’s all your stuff?!” I was a little surprised by this, because while I DO like to keep my home as clean as possible, I HAD made an extra-special effort for this party, and had put things away that would normally be out. Yes, my house is usually quite tidy, but it’s not normally THAT tidy: and as for “all the stuff” – well, it was crammed into closets, so that people wouldn’t fall over a dog bed on their way to use the bathroom.
As I said, I’d assumed everyone did this kind of thing before hosting a party, but people were SO astonished by how tidy my house was that I actually started to feel like a giant fake- like I’d tricked everyone into thinking I was something I wasn’t. I felt I was getting credit I didn’t deserve, basically: people were assuming that because my house was neat on that occasion, that it must be like that all the time, and that made me feel like a complete fraud.
My point in all of this (I do have one, I promise), is that if I’m fake as a blogger, then I’m fake in “real life” too. I think most people are – IF you want to define “fake” as “trying to show your best side to the world”. I, on the other hand, prefer to define it as a simple human nature. Most of try to avoid letting people see too much of the “behind the scenes” aspects of our lives. We don’t go to parties in our sweatpants, and we quickly pick up the house when we know someone’s on the way over.
Sometimes, of course, it’s not always possible to be always at your “best” – and that’s absolutely fine. I think this is the main difference between blogging and “real life” in this respect: as a blogger, it’s much easier to keep up the façade. In real life, people can turn up unexpectedly, and get an up-close view of the dirty laundry pile and last night’s dishes. Or you decide you can’t be bothered to put on makeup to walk the dog, and then bump into every single one of your neighbours (this has happened to me too many times to count).
In Blog Land, by contrast, that doesn’t happen. I’d have to actively CHOOSE to photograph the dirty dishes, and, be serious: who’s going to do that? And who, for that matter, even wants to see it? Because one of the difficult things about blogging is that the people who criticise fashion bloggers for being “fake”, are the same people who’ll ALSO criticise them for having chipped nail polish, or a hair out of place. I see this all the time on snark sites: “you’d think she could have tidied up her living room before taking that photo,” people will say, or – in the case of professional bloggers- “For God’s sake, this is her JOB: you’d think she could at least put in a bit of effort.”
Then there are all of the, “Why did she* think this outfit was blog-worthy?” or “Who’d bother posting a photo of THAT?” comments, which go a long way towards convincing me that while blog readers often SAY they want bloggers to be “real”, they don’t always mean it – and, in the bid to be relatable, it’s possible to go too far in the opposite direction.
(*Disclaimer: I’m not saying I’ve had any of these comments myself, I hasten to add – they’re just things I’ve seen said about bloggers in general…)
So, ARE fashion bloggers fake? I think some of them undoubtedly are: I’m sure there are some bloggers out there who are intentionally creating the illusion of a perfect lifestyle which they don’t actually have. I think most of us, however, are just doing the best we can to create beautiful content – the type that people actually want to read and share. Because people may claim to want a “warts and all” view of the bloggers they follow, and some might genuinely mean it. But let’s face it: you’re not going be pinning the photos of the “warts”, and photos of thrown-together outfits and unkempt hair aren’t going to keep you coming back.
How can bloggers ensure that they strike the right balance: that they remain “real”, without being SO real that no one wants to read them any more? It’s a tricky one, and I guess the answer will be different for everyone. In my case, I try to do it with words. I don’t have the confidence to post photos of outfits I consider unflattering, and I’d be embarrassed to show you my house when it’s a mess, so I post the photos I feel comfortable with sharing, and try to use the words which accompany them to let you know that my life is far from perfect, and that a photograph doesn’t tell you the whole story.
I also rely on my readers to draw those conclusions for themselves. I credit you all with the intelligence to understand that when a blogger posts a photo of her pristine white desk, she quite possibly pushed her dirty coffee mug and the remains of her lunch out of the shot, first: and I’m sure you’d all do exactly the same.