“They say a picture paints a thousand words”
Identity is something we face every day, we’re bombarded with questions.
What’s your name? What do you do? How old are you? Are you in a relationship? Are you married? Do you have any children? Do you have any siblings? Where are your shoes from? Are you on Facebook? Which football team do you support? Who’s your favourite band?
Simple questions, questions we already know the answer to. Even if it’s not true, we know what we should say. We know what people want to hear.
Take the explosion of social media for an example. You see what people want you to see, and that’s normally not the whole truth. It’s an image, just a perception of their ‘perfect’ life. Full of happiness, reminders of good days, of good things, of photos put under every filter possible.
It used to be the case – a picture paints a thousand words – but what does a photo say now? I look better in black and white. I don’t like how that photo makes me look, but an Instagram filter will make it ‘perfect’. Now, I don’t mean to body-shame people. Everyone has the right to wear what they want, wear makeup, and even make use of photo filter to emphasise their best features.
What I mean, is that now you don’t know what went on behind the photo. Was it photoshopped? What was changed? Was the person really as happy as they looked? Where was the image taken, at home? At a restaurant that cost the person more than a months worth of pay? How long did it take to get the perfect shot? What made them take that photo in the first place? Do they want to have a reminder of that moment in time? Was it just because it made a beautiful photo? Did they want it to celebrate progress, or act as a reminder of how bad they had slipped? You never know what’s going on in someone’s head. You have no idea if they’re struggling with their mental health.
Here’s an example. Today, I took a selfie. I did my makeup, put on nice clothes, and thought I may as well take a photo while I looked far better than I felt. It was an opportunity to take a proper photo of my – frankly incredible – henna I had done on my hand at an awards ceremony yesterday. I edited the photo and tweaked it to make it look better than the original.
But what that photo doesn’t show is how long it took me to get photo-ready. Today, I’m flaring from having a great time yesterday. It took me two hours to put on minimal makeup to make myself feel good, and another three to get dressed. I deserve the right to do what I want with my body, I am not questioning that. But in this photo I made available to the world, is it the real me? I was crying before I took it. I was trying to think of something, anything, to distract me from my thoughts. The reason I’m covering my mouth? It’s not just an inventive way to show off my henna. It’s because today I’m struggling with my relationship with food. I didn’t want to be editing a photo that showed my mouth because it would just remind me of how unhealthy I had let myself become.
So what happens when we compare ourselves to these photos online? Photos that have been edited. Do people really understand the difference, do children? Or is everyone so absorbed that we don’t recognise these are impossible ideals. I don’t mean to make this sound like criticism of bloggers, as then I would just be criticising myself too. And to the incredible spoonie bloggers out there – thank you. Thank you for using your skills to thrust the reality of living with a chronic illness into the limelight. Thank you to the inspiring people who post on social media about their struggles, without being swept up in inspiration porn.