On Authenticity and Social Media

A new year always seems to inspire a little navel-gazing, and so far, this year, I feel like I’ve been staring at my bellybutton nonstop. The big thing on my mind? Authenticity: specifically, how social media does — or does not — reflect our actual lives.

I’ve seen a few articles recently praising bloggers and writers for telling it like it is, not holding back and not hiding their real lives beneath a shiny facade. And I certainly applaud that as well! Two books I’ve read recently are Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and both praise the value of being open and real and vulnerable, and after reading them, I decided that I, too, could stand to be a little more vulnerable.

But not necessarily to the whole world. At least, not unless the message I’m sharing is a message that I believe will benefit by being shared.

authenticity in social media

All of these pictures represent happy moments. All of these pictures are completely genuine. But there’s more to my life than what you see here, and it’s not all sunsets and smiles.

If you were to scroll through my Instagram feed or Facebook profile, I guess you’d get a fairly pretty picture — running with friends, sunsets at the beach, champagne, smiles — so many smiles. I share articles I’ve written (and am proud of), recipes I enjoy, music that’s making my soul feel full (or at least making my foot tap beneath my desk). There are cat pictures and dog pictures, and even when I share, say, a bad run or baking fail, I usually at least present it in a humorous light.

All of that is completely true. It’s authentic. It’s genuine.

But it’s not my entire life.

I don’t post on Facebook about my dog having two seizures on Christmas Eve and freaking out about whether we were on a downward spiral (and we’re not — she’s doing fine now), or that I got hate mail from a stranger about an article I’d worked really hard on.

When I feel a bout of anxiety coming on, my response is typically to go straight into the self-care routines that help me cope (which, at times, involves hiding under blankets and eating nachos). I rarely have any desire to hit Instagram with a picture of those moments, not because I’m embarrassed or because I only want to publicly portray a life that sparkles and shines, but because, when I’m making my way through that sh*t sandwich, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, my focus is on coming out the other end. The last thing I want to do is freeze that moment in time.

Also, those aren’t moments that I, personally, want to look back on. I love looking through my Facebook memories each morning and remembering the trail runs and book club meetings and mornings spent snuggling with my dogs. I don’t want to be reminded that a year ago, I felt like I’d never have a happy moment worth posting ever again.

Not to mention the fact that, in a moment like that, I might not fully understand why I’m reacting so strongly to something or feeling so down. While it’s possible that I’d want to talk it out with my closest friends or family (or a therapist), I don’t necessarily want everyone in my social media sphere weighing in on what’s going on or telling me how to fix it, even if their advice is coming from the best possible place. And after the fact, I most likely just want to move on — I’m not much for looking back in the best circumstances, and I’m definitely not going to spend time remembering a bad experience if I can help it!

Does that make me less authentic? Is it ingenuine to keep those moment and feelings mostly to myself? My hope is that, by being open about the fact that I do experience challenges in general, it’ll let people know that, if they’re having a hard time, they’re not alone (at all). And I hope that I don’t have to share all the nitty gritty (either in the moment or after the fact) for that message to be powerful. The last thing I want to do is make someone feel like their life isn’t fun or exciting enough because most of what I post focuses on the things I love, but … yeah. You guys don’t need to see a picture of the mountain of laundry I’m battling, or the bill I just got from the auto mechanic, do you?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts, though. Do you question a person’s authenticity when most of what you see is happy-happy-happy? Does it affect the way you feel about your life, or do you just assume that they’re posting the good and editing out the bad? Personally, I like seeing other people’s happy — I’m happy to lend support when it’s needed, of course, but I love being inspired by the awesome things others are doing! Kristen

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  1. Great read! I too, have no interest in begging for a pity party by sharing my not-so-sparkly days. Plus, I found that content boring to read and something not worth clouding up my friends feeds with. I personally, don’t enjoy reading public loans and groans, so I keep mine to myself.
    Plus, my public work is to motivate and educate. Sharing about something annoying a family member did, is a weird thing to do publicly. I just would rather keep my personal life, personal. And I don’t expect anyone to think about or care if things look too good. That make sense?

  2. Oxana says:

    An extension this topic of authenticity is publishing the images of “imperfection”, like pimples, cellulite, stretch marks, on the social media. Some people do it to promote a healthy realistic image of human body that is not perfect every single day, but some may use it as a tactic of seeming closer to people to gain more popularity. Authenticity of intent is what matters. By that, a perfect social feed may be completely authentic and the “real” one full of sh…

  3. Jamie King says:

    I like to keep what I post online as positive as possible. Nobody wants to hear (or should have to hear) about a crappy day, a negative thought or something that might otherwise bring them down just by looking at my feed. I think its fine to choose happy and choose what works best for you!

  4. Natalie says:

    Hi Kristen!

    Great post. I once heard a line about social media that perfectly captures my feelings on this topic: Life is a feature film and what you see on social media is the highlight reel.

    Social media is so personal and its motives change from person to person. Some people love the validation that is associated with it, some people are on social media to create a scrapbook of memories (I’d say the majority use it for a combination of both). I don’t find myself reading too far into whether or not a person is being disingenuous–unless every other post is sponsored or something.

    Sometimes I do enjoy seeing some vulnerability on social media because it can create a deeper connection if other people are experiencing a similar situation. I wrote a post on running and how it’s taboo to talk about getting burned out and taking a break, and I was surprised to see how many people were able to identify with it.

    Definitely an interesting topic and conversation!

  5. Ashlee says:

    Well said! I fully believe in weighing what you post and withhold on social media. Sometimes when a person posts everything, it can feel too dramatic or like their instigating drama.

    For me it’s about balance in my real life, and the results of that usually translate into realistic, positive posts to share. Not sharing the other stuff, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; rather, that they don’t have to be front and center to the world. But bits and pieces, and the lessons learned, usually make their way through in some shape or form.

  6. Samantha says:

    Great read. For me, a person comes off as authentic or not authentic by their interactions with others and their ability to relate to things and be vulnerable, like you mentioned. I don’t think only sharing positive, happy things makes you inauthentic. It respects your privacy to deal with whatever troubles are happening within your closest circle of friends and family. 🙂 Besides, there are so many negative things going on in this world; sometimes its refreshing to see a happy picture or quote or read something inspirational. Those are just my thoughts! 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Kristen!

  7. I think they’re editing out the bad. I think it’s a given that we’re all human and have ups and downs and those downs, most of us dont want to broadcast it. I never do because I don’t want people feeling like I’m posting for attention. An effective way would be to post a negative but share a lesson or some wisdom that comes with it. I like when people do that.