Last night, after I had long given into the homework struggle and headed to bed, I instinctively picked up my phone off of my nightstand and began to scroll through Instagram. My feed was filled with sandy beaches and tasty tropical cocktails posted by friends on recent spring break travels, picturesque portraits of gentle snow falling across the Twin Cities (but like the really pretty kind of snow that would never delay traffic or turn gray and slushy after a couple of days), smiling selfies accompanied by inspirational quotes, groups of friends headed off on spectacular adventures, magazine worthy images of homecooked meals, giggling babies with chubby cheeks, and the world’s most adorable puppies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for some solid cute puppy or giggly baby or tropical cocktail photo inspiration, but with each image, I was confronted with the painful disconnect between these photos and my own reality. Maybe these images represented my friends’ lives that particular day, but they certainly didn’t represent mine.
I recently listened to an episode of the NPR podcast “Hidden Brain” exploring this very phenomenon. One woman interviewed on the podcast reflected on the images she shared of her view from her new home. “If you looked only straight you could see mountains,” she said. “If you looked to the left you’d see a factory, but of course I didn’t take pictures of the factory, because why would you do that?”
Lately I’ve been wondering more and more what it looks like when we zoom out of our own carefully curated Instagram frames, when we include the mountains, yes, but also the unsightly factory. I’ve been wondering what captions might more accurately portray the whole reality of our lives, alongside the inspirational quotes and witty taglines. I’ve been wondering about what we do to ourselves and to each other when we only include the most socially acceptable and, let’s be honest, most enviable highlights of our stories, portraying who we so desperately want to be instead of the full messy reality of who we are.
My perfectly Instagrammed morning coffee might also include a selfie with red eyes and a lens widened to include the stack of theology books I was up reading way too late because I procrastinated all week and didn’t get my homework done. It might include a messy pile of blankets kicked to the end of my bed from tossing and turning over the anxiety of upcoming life transitions and my ever-growing to-do list and my meal plan for the rest of the week and work and money and a bleak-looking future of the church and my latest theological crisis and the list of people I’ve been promising to call but haven’t.
The selfie with my giggling friends might include a caption about how lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life and how they add depth and meaning and fun and overwhelming joy, certainly, but it also might include a story about how hard friendship can be and how sometimes despite our best intentions we make mistakes and hurt each other and stay stupid or petty things.
Maybe the picture of the march I attended or the social movement I support would include a time lapse to show all the other marches or events or causes I haven’t shown up for, either out of selfishness or fear or uncertainty or pride or exhaustion.
Maybe my cute date night photos should be paired with totally unexciting snapshots of solo Netflix watching or lonely Facebook scrolling.
Maybe the image of the pristinely presented vegetable-laden meal should also include the stack of dirty dishes, a stove splattered with tomato sauce, and a secret stash of Oreos in the cupboard.
Maybe the picture I posted simply because it was good hair day or because my makeup is on point are proud proclamations of self-love and acceptance, but maybe they should really include a caption about my deep desire to be seen and to take up a bit of space in a world that seems all to eager to render us invisible and pass us by without a second glance.
Maybe there is more to my own identity than I’m willing to make room for. Maybe I need to start examining my own life and creating space for others’ lives through a wider lens.
So, what would your honest Instagram feed look like? What would you notice if you zoomed outside of the frame? What more is there to your story?