Two news items caught my attention yesterday. The first was about idealized Facebook profiles. A recent survey in Britain found that 76% of those asked admitted to tweaking the images they post to their profiles in order to make "their lives seem more exciting." Some even confessed to have "borrowed items to include in the images in order to pass them off as their own and make others jealous."
Paying attention to how one appears in public, or to friends or colleagues, is nothing new. It is not only forgivable, but entirely right to put one's best foot forward—to conceal some aspects of oneself and highlight others. It is linked to our existence as bodily subjects in relation and exposed to others. It is a matter of self-respect. But it is easy to go from just wanting to make a good impression to trying to make a false impression—false in the sense of idealized, hypocritical, unreal, or whatever. And there are different motives for this too. Trying to make others jealous is one. Being embarrassed about how boring or unimpressive our real self/life is, is another.
The second news item was about a middle-aged woman, who made a sexy photoshoot of herself as a Christmas present for her husband of more than 20 years. The husband's response is wonderful. Though fully appreciating the good intentions of both the wife and the photographer, he did not like it that the pictures were airbrushed. His "heart sank" when he saw them. The pictures were beautiful, but he no longer saw the wife that he loved in them. Writing to the photographer, he says:
You made every one of her 'flaws' disappear... and while I'm sure this is exactly what she asked you to do, it took away everything that makes up our life. When you took away her stretch marks, you took away the documentation of my children. When you took away her wrinkles, you took away over two decades of our laughter, and our worries. When you took away her cellulite, you took away her love of baking and all the goodies we have eaten over the years.
Beautiful and true. Even better, the husband realizes that he is himself largely to blame; that he has not made his wife feel that he loves her just as she is:
Seeing these images made me realize that I honestly do not tell my wife enough how much I LOVE her and adore her just as she is. She hears it so seldom, that she actually thought these photoshopped images are what I wanted and needed her to look like. I have to do better, and for the rest of my days I am going to celebrate her in all her imperfectness.
Something similar seems also true of idealized Facebook profiles. The survey I mentioned above shows not only that most people "airbrush" their own social image, but also that they judge their peers based on their social image. What goes around comes around. The more we judge people based on their virtual appearance, the more tempted they will be to control and improve that appearance. The challenge in these days of social media is to resist that temptation from both sides. The challenge is to be real. Not to trade flawed realities for perfect shadows.