Instagram, Real Life, and The In-Between

By De Elizabeth

Earlier this week, a friend told me that my life seemed “amazing” through Instagram, and my first instinct was to laugh. Hard.

I read her message after I had just finished cleaning a stack of dishes that had piled in the sink. Prior to that, I had picked up no less than thirty toys strewn across my living room floor, knowing full well that the room would once again be a mess just a few minutes later. My hair was unwashed, thrown up in a messy half-bun, and my eye makeup was rubbed off from crying earlier over a reason I can no longer recall. Untouched on my desk was a to-do list I’d written earlier in the day when I was feeling more motivated, when I thought I might actually accomplish something productive that afternoon.

But sure, on Instagram, everything looks different.

My Instagram feed is as curated as anyone else’s; I use the same filter every time and often gravitate towards the same types of photos for a cohesive “aesthetic.” Thanks to a flurry of apps, each picture is flushed with warm tones and edited to my satisfaction: a mirror selfie showing off a new outfit, a photo of my daughter chasing her shadow, a snippet of my morning coffee resting atop legs in ripped jeans.

Here’s what’s not on Instagram: Images of my 2-year-old having a tantrum so intense you’d think the world was ending. My 11th trip to Target in one week because I can never remember to take my list with me, or I just need something to do because it’s getting cold and I can no longer take my toddler to the playground as a default “we need to get out of the house” activity. Anxiety over literally anything, perpetually feeling like I’m one step behind in every aspect of my life, worrying that I’m doing it all wrong. Messy rooms, messy hair, messy clothes, with messy thoughts and a messy heart to match.

But this is where things get kind of complicated. It would be easy to say that Instagram is a big fat lie, but the truth is: Instagram is really only lying by omission. Because the snippets of my life I share online are real, too. The moments of quiet and calm, a sweet tiny hug from my daughter, an outfit or good hair day where I feel cute: those pieces of my life do exist, and they’re still valid, even through a filter. What I choose to show on Instagram, albeit a highlight reel, is still part of my world. After all, highlights wouldn’t be highlights without the low points.

Because we spend so much of our lives online, it’s easy to forget that the online world and the real world aren’t the same, or at least they aren’t supposed to be. I’d be lying if I said I never compared myself to other moms on Instagram, wondering how the hell they find time to curl their perfectly toned hair and get their face in a full contour while juggling not just one but several kids, all before 10am. And I have to remind myself too, there’s parts of their lives that I’m simply just not seeing.

There’s a case to be made for sharing everything online, putting the bad out there right alongside the good. But for every “real talk” post on Instagram, every “brave” caption, I can’t help but wonder how much of that was edited too, how much that person put their words through a filter. Even right now, writing this post, there are things I can’t admit even to myself, let alone to the entire internet.

But what if our lives weren’t ever meant to be shared in that way? What if it’s simply okay to have an Online You and a Real You? Perhaps it’s just fine to carve out corners of the internet for our best selves, the moments we want to remember and hang onto during the times when we feel messy and overwhelmed.

And so maybe it’s not really “Instagram vs. Real Life” as much as we all like to joke in our captions. Maybe it’s actually “Instagram and Real Life.” Not opposites, but two realms with a foggy grey area in between, a murky venn diagram with borders so flimsy, it becomes easy to lose your way. And so we forget that what we see on Instagram, though beautiful, just simply isn’t the entire story.

So here’s to everyone who is both. Here’s to the people who live in the in-between, the people who aren’t “just happy” or “just sad,” but feel everything simultaneously — existing quietly there in the foggy grey area between two realms.

Here’s to the lives we live on Instagram, the lives we live in the real world, and the blurry collision in the middle. It’s beautiful there, too.

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash