A few weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine began a series of posts on Facebook and Instagram about displaying herself truthfully on social media. Her social media experiment was to post a real life, behind-the-veneer look at her life each day for a whole month.
The whole notion of pulling back the curtain on a carefully curated social media narrative is nothing new, but what she posted as each of her daily truths really struck me — especially in light of the coincidentally times WordPress prompt a couple of weeks ago about radical authenticity.
Note: I’m preemptively breaking this post into at least two parts, because it feels like one of those deeper posts that has been brewing in me for a while and still needs time to finish fully percolating.
Full disclaimer: This acquaintance is someone I have not seen in person for many years, so at this point in our lives, my only lens into her world is social media. I will not pretend to have a clear picture of how radically authentic her social media experiment was or was not. Only she can truly know that.
Disclaimer out of the way, I honestly was very struck by how glossy and curated her experimental posts still seemed.
For example, she normally posts a lot of perfectly plated meals that she cooks, showcasing fine china and trendy tableware. (Side note: Being a wannabe domestic goddess myself, I love seeing her posts like this!). Anyway, one of her radical truth posts was a photo of her smiling, holding a pot of soup in one hand and a large wooden spoon in the other, eating directly out of the pot. The caption was something to the effect of, “Not every meal is plated perfectly. Sometimes I eat dinner straight off the stove!”
My internal reaction (admittedly very sardonic): Stop the presses, you ate dinner straight off the stove! Whoa now, that’s just wild and crazy. I don’t think I can handle this much radical authenticity.
Another of her truthful posts was a photo of her in a super cute outfit, standing on a walking trail with colorful fall leaves all around, holding a totally cute squishable puppy. The caption read something like, “I wanted to adopt this puppy today, but my husband didn’t think we should get a dog since we live in an apartment. Compromise in marriage is hard sometimes!”
My internal reaction (admittedly jealous): Yes, compromise in marriage IS hard sometimes. Believe me, I’d love to get a puppy right now too, but my husband also doesn’t want a dog just yet in our brand new pristine house. And, realistically given my job, I also know it’s simply not a wise choice at this very moment. But Jesus woman why do you look so perfect holding a puppy and where can I get that outfit?! I sure wish all the compromises in my marriage were as picture perfect as this.
What I’m trying to say is, that while the truths she posted are no doubt truthful portrayals of everyday imperfections in life, the images themselves — and even the choices of topics — seemed so Instagrammable. So socially acceptable. So picturesque. So not radical.
Authentic? Yes. But radically authentic? Not in my opinion.
This is just my two cents as I continue to think through the whole notion of radical authenticity, but I would argue that the word radical in that phrase implies an openness to truths that are perhaps painful or scary or taboo. This of course means different things to different people and different cultures, and I certainly don’t think radical authenticity mandates metaphysical depth. But I would argue that it allows it — encourages it, even.
Now, maybe my acquaintance simply does not feel comfortable sharing grittier truths on social media platforms, and I totally respect that. Or maybe (less likely) the deepest her pain points run really is at the level of messy dinners and wagging tails. The point of this post isn’t to speculate as to why she chose the truths she chose to showcase, or to criticize those choices. In fact, I truly admire the intention of her social media experiment, even if I personally feel it was still heavily curated to the point of nearly being obsolete.
Rather, the point is to use this as food for thought for what it is so hard for so many of us to be radically authentic in the us we present to the outside world. I know I for one struggle greatly with the desire to be transparent about the ups and downs in my life, and the simultaneous desire for my life to look Instagrammably happy all the time.
So, no, I’m not going to Snapchat a photo of my Prozac bottle, or write a blog post about all of my deepest darkest internal monsters, be they insecurities, fears, or great nebulous blobs of despair that manifest in clinical depression. But maybe I should do exactly that.
Maybe, just maybe, I should take what I’ve learned from critically unpacking my acquaintance’s social media experiment and put it to good use in my own life. I try to keep this blog authentic, but there is still arguably a heavy dose of curation that goes on. Perhaps this has created a cognitive dissonance in me that led me to view my acquaintance’s experiment so bitterly. Because I often see myself doing the exact same thing.
OK, enough rambling for now. I am very open and eager to hear y’all’s thoughts on all this. And I definitely plan to elaborate on these thoughts more in a follow up post.
For now, I will end with an attempt at radical authenticity: a vignette of this moment in time. I’m typing away at the keyboard, hair tangled, teeth not yet brushed, eyes still sleepy, wearing only a bathrobe that probably should have been washed ages ago and some ratty old house slippers I
stole borrowed from my husband. I’m checking my phone obsessively, hoping to hear good news on some jobs I’ve applied for. Nothing yet. I try in vain not to internalize the silence, but I keep interpreting it to mean that I’m not good enough for the jobs I applied for. The sun is starting to shine pretty brightly into the window in my home office, illuminating the dust that’s accumulated on my desk. I need to clean my office – badly. Bookstore receipts, gum wrappers, and Post-It notes litter the area surrounding my keyboard. This isn’t the Pinterest perfect image of a home office that I want.
Tell me, what does radical authenticity mean to you?
Until next time,