authenticity over perfection: how social media fuels our shopping and retail therapy

Life is messy. My life is messy.

Social media barely existed when I was a young adult (we’re talking MySpace era).  It was a fun diversion.  A way to meet new people you would have never met otherwise. And I really liked that –especially as a person who had a lot of social anxiety IRL, but felt totally brave talking to strangers online.

But then it all changed as Instagram became more and more prevalent. I loved IG more than any other social media platform (still kinda do) because everyone had to create and share something to participate.  It was more than just comments and likes, it was sharing a piece of your day-to-day existence.  And in the beginning, it felt super genuine. Even when Hipstamatic filters started ruining all of our photos, Instagram still reflected the messiness of our real lives.

And then something changed. It couldn’t be a food photo. It had to be a perfectly staged plate.

It couldn’t be a fun night out. It had to be a highly organized photo of your friends, perfectly posed to share their best sides.

2 images of perfect people and food that lack authenticity.
perfect images, perfect lives?

It wasn’t “here I am today,” it was “THIS IS MY OUTFIT…OF THE DAY.”
Perfection and well-organized compositions.
The most flattering lighting.
The most perfect version of life.
In the beginning, it felt so insincere and unnatural to me. And I kinda laughed at all of the perfect açaí bowls captioned #LiveAuthentic . I smiled when I saw my friends’ super chaotic, full of dirty laundry apartment photos…suddenly spotless and perfectly arranged. Maybe just one small corner that didn’t reflect the whole space.

I understood why friends were spending half an hour trying to get the right pose down in their selfies, even though they barely resembled their IRL selves. I could see all the effort and edits. It felt like we were all just putting on a play. We were the stars and everyone else was the audience. I knew that no one’s life was that perfect.  

But somewhere along the line, it became real to me

It was no longer this facade of perfection…everyone really was living their best lives ever. And I wasn’t. I was constantly coping with my mental illness, worrying about money, being in bad relationships, shitty jobs, my fucked up family trauma, major insecurities about my body, my appearance, my life…and I just couldn’t see how I could fit into this. 

The best version of my life was…everyone else’s bad day gone worse. My mental health suffered from this, as I could actively compare my shortcomings to everyone else with the swipe of a smartphone screen. Despair and disappointment had never been so convenient before.

I saw a way to obscure how unhappy my real life was: I would buy new clothes. Try new makeup. Pose 1000 times until one shot looked good. I would act as if I was having more fun than anyone else, parading around in my own #ootd (even if it was really an Outfit of the Hour). Maybe I would never be the prettiest, but my IG grid would project an air of “I am the coolest, most stylish person you know.” I don’t think anyone believed it, but I could pretend.

It’s no coincidence that fast fashion blew up in the Instagram era 

The version of our lives that we showed on social media had to be the most perfect, the most stylish…and showing a lot of rampant consumerism was a part of that. Fast fashion made clothing and style cheap and accessible to many more people. But of course, not for everyone. The industry may have lowered their prices, but they still wanted to stick with being as heteronormative and fat phobic as they had always been. Still, lots more people could buy lots more clothes. And when sporting a new outfit in every post was normalized by Influencers and brands, soon we were adopting that approach. It stopped feeling weird or wasteful, even if it feels RIDICULOUS to type those words now.

Here’s the thing: I think social media is pretty magical

Yes, it has done a lot of damage, but it also brings people together. I know so many rad people that I would have never, ever met without IG.  And I think it is a phenomenal way to share information. If you’re reading this post right now, you’re experiencing another side of social media.

What if we harnessed that power of social media and used it to educate and welcome people into our community…rather than sell them something and/or make them feel inadequate? We’ve seen how social media can drive over consumption…can it also drive LESS CONSUMPTION?! 

It’s time to drop the facade of perfection

A child with paint all over her hands -authentically imperfect

The reality is that none of us lead “perfect” lives. Things give us anxiety. We get sick, tired, sad. We also get super happy, excited, full of dreams and plans.  This is what it is to be a human! And an authentic portrayal of our lives will include both.  

Prioritizing authenticity over perfection will be better for our collective mental health. It will help us build real relationships…because social media IS real life! The interactions that happen here do have an impact on your general wellbeing. And if we stop pressuring everyone to strive for perfection, hopefully we can cut out a lot of the excess shopping.

Let’s be authentic together

I’ll be the first to admit that years ago, I would never have been as vulnerable and honest as I am with all of you today. What changed? I started opening up about my life, my fears, my experiences…and so many of you felt seen. I felt less alone. I realized that being my true self was liberating for me, but it also made many of you feel better, too. And now I feel like I am part of this community of incredible, brave, passionate people.

Let’s use social media for good. Let’s exert our influence to those around us and show them a a better path forward. And let’s welcome new people into this more ethical, less wasteful way of life. Let’s grow this community into a movement!

–amanda lee mccarty

This is a guest post by Amanda Lee McCarty. She is the host of The Clotheshorse Podcast and creator of the Clotheshorse Podcast IG where she remixes old illustrations of cute animals with thought provoking content about fashion + our consumption habits. (as seen here!) She also co-hosts The Department podcast. Follow her, listen and learn! This post was originally on Clotheshorse Podcast IG and has been slightly modified.

image by Amanda McCarty for Clotheshorse Podcast instagram

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