If you’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other form of social media, you’re already all too familiar with “image crafting,” the act of carefully and deliberately constructing one’s social media content to control the way others view their life. Perhaps you’ve even fallen prey to the pressure yourself, un-tagging unflattering photos of yourself on Facebook, publicly praising every nice thing your spouse does, or adding #lovemylife to every. Single. Post.
As a result, our social media feeds read like a modern-day fairy tale, where every moment is wondrous, every interaction with our family is more precious than the last, and even the mundane (coffee with the girls! look at my lunch! stuck in traffic!) is a magical experience. Ever look at someone’s social media feed and think, “I just threw up in my mouth a little bit?”
We have too.
Ego, Pride, and Self-Worth
Don’t we all wish our lives were actually as amazing as they appear in our social media feeds? It’s normal to want to put our best face forward. Most people understandably won’t share the “What’s with my double-chin?” photo or the “My relationship is falling apart” status update—our pride and insecurities simply won’t allow it.
But image crafting isn’t just about filtering only the good news through. It’s about building a carefully constructed image that isn’t authentic, truthful, or even realistic—but sure does look good on paper, which is exactly why we do it. It feels good (at the time) to project this above-average version of yourself and your life into the world. You garner the admiration, praise, and envy of your social media network. You feel validated, your sense of self-worth and your self-esteem safe for yet another day.
The problem is that even though it feels good in the moment, over the long-term, image crafting hurts all of us—society, your friends and family, and you, the oh-so-careful image crafter.
Image Crafting Hurts Us All
When your friends’ social media feeds are full of perfect date nights, perfect workouts, perfect kids, perfect everything, it makes it really hard to feel like your imperfect life is good enough. Image crafting tells society as a whole that this perfect vision of life is not only attainable, it’s the norm—when nothing could be farther from the truth.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and constantly comparing yourself against a carefully crafted ideal is a surefire recipe for jealousy, disappointment, and malcontent with your own life—which, by the way, felt pretty satisfying before you pulled up Facebook. Nobody’s life is that perfect, but everyone’s collective image crafting makes it hard for society as a whole to develop and project more authentic expectations.
Even more damaging, the more people who image craft, the more pressure we feel to keep up—and the farther social media as a whole gets from reality. Do you want to be the only one in your social circle who doesn’t have the perfect wife/kids/job/house? Of course not. (We sense a “hashtag love my life” coming on.)
Image Crafting Hurts Your Friends and Family
When you carefully craft your social media feed with items designed to provoke admiration, envy, and idolization, you get just that—but at what expense? Friends compare their lives to your “life” and fall short in every area. You perfectly balance work and family. You always find time to exercise and eat healthy. Your hair is always perfect, your makeup always flawless, and your spouse is so considerate, thoughtful, and loving, they may just be a Stepford.
With your “perfect” life as a barrier, how likely are your friends to share their imperfect lives with you? It’s hard enough to admit to loved ones when you are struggling or failing, but sharing these things with you? Not gonna happen. Which means it is impossible to foster authentic, close relationships when you so carefully craft a perfect image of yourself.
Because of our image crafting, we lose the opportunity to connect authentically with those we love. Relationships become as fake as your feed: “How’s your job? Amazing! How are the kids? Amazing! How are your workouts going? Let me guess… Amazing!” No one shares the hard things, the real things, and your relationships never progress past the amazing fairy tale recitations for fear of disturbing the image you have so carefully constructed.
Image Crafting Hurts You
More than anyone, however, image crafting hurts you. The reason you image craft in the first place is because you feel like your life as it stands isn’t good enough, because the admiration of others feels really, really good, and maybe because your sense of self-worth is tied up in the opinions of others. These feelings are common, but they are also destructive.
The false image you have created of yourself and your life is unattainable by anyone—including you. The more you image craft, the more you realize you can no longer live up to the public image you’ve built. This makes you feel like a giant fake, an imposter in your own life—which creates intense pressure for you to not only keep up the image, but to constantly exceed it. Day in and day out, you have to be more joyful, more magical, more perfect.
And damn if that isn’t exhausting.
The more likes, the more comments, the more praise, the better you feel about yourself (in the moment), but the more the pressure builds. Your sense of self-worth hangs on the balance of the feedback you receive, and every single day is a new opportunity to fail. And when things in your life invariably get hard (because they will), what can you do? How can you ask for help when things fall apart, when you’ve been posing perfect for the last six months?
This behavior is isolating. It’s draining. You’re on a treadmill going faster and faster, and once you’ve image crafted so completely, you feel like there is no way off.
Are You Image Crafting?
Not every upbeat Instagram picture or Facebook status update is image crafting. It’s normal to want to share your “highlight reel” in public, saving the difficult or mundane parts of day-to-day life for in-person discussions with close friends and family. But if the image you portray on your social media feed is starting to feel like a ball and chain, ask yourself these questions the next time you post:
- Am I catering to an audience, or am I being authentic or genuine?
- Is what I’m posting specifically designed to solicit a desired response (praise, admiration, sympathy)?
- Are the things I post for the benefit of others, or is it mostly self-supporting?
- Is this post a true reflection of where I am right now, or does it imply a better, happier context?
- If someone in my social network were to meet me in person today, would today’s post match up with my real-life demeanor?
- Do I feel like an imposter in my own life, afraid that people will “find out” I’m not anywhere near that happy, centered, or perfect?
Lose the Ideal—Be Real
You may feel like getting off the image crafting treadmill is impossible, but it’s really just as easy as stepping off. This doesn’t mean you have to share every dirty detail of your life with the world (social media is not the appropriate platform for your recent bout with diarrhea or your wife’s irresponsible spending habits), but it does mean you have to start being more true to yourself in public.
- Be authentic in your posts. If you had a lovely day, share it! But if your day is hard and you need support, feel free to share that too, in whatever way feels comfortable for you.
- Focus more on doing something for those who read your feed than shining a spotlight on your own awesomeness. Share an interesting article, a funny video, or a link to a song you love instead of yet another “This is my perfect life!” update.
- Remember that not every photo needs to be perfect. Recognize that your self-worth doesn’t depend on whether Facebook thinks you’re good-looking. Enjoy the memories the photo represents, and stop focusing on your individual imperfections.
- Foster more in-person, authentic relationships. Get off your computer, set up a coffee date with a friend, and actually talk to them. It’s easy to image craft online, but it’s nearly impossible to pretend your life is perfect when you’re face-to-face with someone who knows you well.
- Be authentic in your relationships, both online and in person. You’ll be amazed at the weight that is lifted when you share more of your genuine self (problems and all) with people who care about you.
Need some anti-image crafting inspiration? Check out what the awesome Lauren Fleshman (accomplished runner and part-time model) wrote after her Oiselle runway show.
Are you guilty of image crafting? (Don’t worry—we all are to some extent, so you’re not alone here.) Are you ready to get off the “my life is perfect” social media treadmill? Post thoughts, links to unflattering photos, and stories of your real life to comments.
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This post was so good. I always wondered why I would sometimes be depressed after looking at Facebook. It’s because I felt like I was the only one not living a charmed life. Now when I read friends’ posts about amazing husbands, kids, vacations, etc., I will consider that they may just be bowing to pressure to project a certain image. It will also give me pause to consider my motives when posting. Thanks!
Yes! The majority of my good friends are not on social media and while I wish they could ‘follow’ the adventures in my business (for shameless promotional purposes), I think it’s great that when we catch up, we actually catch up…no filters…no photoshopped lives. Not having internet relations with them makes it that much more enticing to see them on a regular basis too. And I can’t tag them because they don’t exist…at least not in Zuckerberg’s world:)
This reminds me of this fabulous post that I bookmarked: http://www.themiddlefingerproject.org/9-things-everyone-needs-to-know-about-success-reality-being-human/
Awesome, awesome read!
Liz Becker says
Sometimes I feel like I suck at everything, then I go looking through highly successful people’s instagram/facebook feeds and I feel like crap. I will never be as perfect, as skinny, as buff, as awesome as them. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that what people post is exactly how they want you to see them; perfect. This is a great article and reminder not to compare yourself to orhers, because you never know the whole story.
This is the most amazing and inspiring piece!
So true that we only want others to see the best in us and how lonely and isolating that can sometimes be, both for ourselves and for others.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the matter! You’ve inspired me to write about it as well!
Off to come clean about a few things on my blog…
Andrea @ Pencils and Pancakes says
This is a great post. I think that I mostly post positive stuff, but I don’t feel like I’m doing it to get any response…..I just don’t want to be negative. I don’t want to post something that seems like I’m complaining, but I don’t want to post something that is like gloating. So it’s a fine line!
I’m in grad school to become a therapist and we actually refer to this behavior as a defense mechanism. It’s very detrimental to the person doing it, especially since they already have big issues with self-esteem/insecurity and this feeds into it. This was well written and I enjoyed reading it. I had a friend tell me “you’re negative” once because I would post about having bad days sometimes. I make it a point to post positive things so I don’t appear to be complaining too much, but she was constantly posting cute quotes, photoshopped photos of her and her friends going out to clubs, and never ever shared a single detail about herself feeling down or having a hard time. It was frustrating to hear someone tell me I’m negative just because I’m real — as she is so far removed from reality she believes people need to constantly be upbeat online or they are “negative” people. But behind the scenes she was calling me crying about all kinds of issues in her life.
This is the best article I have ever read. It really hit home for me in every aspect of my life. I am extremely grateful this article was written. I am going to do my best to apply the lessons to my life in the hope of creating a better tomorrow
W.P. McNeill says
We make an effort to look nice before we leave the house. We speak more politely with strangers and more candidly with loved ones. This behavior predates Facebook by at least ten thousand years.
Wow. Just Woooooooooooooooooow.
As I was reading, my jaw dropped, and I perfecly saw myself in many of those lines. Truth being that 99% of the time I only share the good things from my life, and also truth being that because of that, many of my “online buddies” think I am perfect with my diet and workouts. I run a food log on one online forum, just to be able to track my diet, and I caught myself NOT LOGGING after dinner. Even though many times I ate some off-plan things after dinner (more choclate! More paleolized treats! More grapes and dried fruit!) and then I feel super guilty when I get comments like: You are doing so well! I wish I had your willpower to have a diet this clean! And later I hate me for that. That is why I decided to stop my online food log and start a new one that is on the paper, in my home, offline, for me only. I am not perfect, I am well aware of that, and the fact that people might think that doesn’t make me feel or perform better!
Great post guys, big eye opener on many different levels!!! Thanks!!!
Melissa Hartwig says
Thanks so much for the comments, especially if the article resonated with you. And remember, W.P., there is nothing wrong with sharing good news, combing your hair, or smiling at strangers. There is a difference between being nice, polite, and wanting to present yourself in a positive light and carefully, deliberately promoting a false image of yourself to foster admiration, jealousy, or attention. Not every photo on Facebook is image crafting, but in your heart, I think people know the difference between wanting to share something good and wanting to create an impression that simply can’t hold up.
Great article! I wish there was more dialogue about this. While W.P. is correct in his comment, it has become more of an issue with the rise of social media. I myself have been off most social media for a while now. Many of my friends did not understand when I explained my issues/concerns with seeing this controlled “highlight reel” of someone’s life. A friend sent me this quick video and told me she had a better understanding after watching it. I think it compliments this article nicely: