INSTAGRAM: SHOOTING DOWN THIS GRAND ILLUSION / by Raven Duran

A wise person recently told me that “comparison is the thief of joy” and I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. From my perspective it seems as though the world is becoming quite heavily contrasted. Spend 20 minutes watching the news and you’ll see your daily dose of poverty, bombings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and corruption. Then spend another 20 minutes on virtually any social media platform (Instagram I’m lookin at you) and you’ll find a plethora of yacht cruising, Gucci wearing “makeup-artist-turned-actress-but-sometimes-SAG/AFTRA-model-fitness-experts” with bronzed legs on beaches in Bali eating breakfasts at 5 star hotels. They have relationships that make Carrie and Mr. Big’s look like child’s play. And you better believe their BFFs are just as ultra sexy as they are.

I believe this contrast of the quality of human life being depicted in the media is making it much easier to compare ourselves to what we're seeing around us. It isn’t isolated to women. We’ve all seen the guy who can’t post a photo without his rolex showing in the frame or (more than likely someone else’s) foreign car in the background. How about the people who can’t step foot in the gym every day without sharing it? People are now striving to become archetypes. He’s fit, athletic, attractive and wealthy. She’s beautiful, she’s stylish, she’s traveled — a globetrotter. This isn’t isolated to twenty-somethings either. People from all walks of life are now curating the story of their lives which they’re carefully portraying to their friends and followers.

Facebook is my favorite as it tends to be the place I turn to catch up on what my friends and family are up to. However I’ve noticed that the things I see posted there also tend to be the same. Amazing wedding? Post it. Promoted at work? Post it. Family vacation? Post it. The 36 week baby bump painted to look like a pumpkin? Post it. Your abs look totally killer after that gym sesh? Post it. He popped the question overlooking that beautiful view of (*sub. beach, hiking trail, cityscape or world wonder here). Post it. And make sure you show the ring.

Everyone’s lives are so epic, so fun, so... perfect?

But your’s isn’t, is it? Nah, of course it’s not. Chances are you have doubts, and fears, and bills to pay and insecurities. Is my life beautiful? Definitely. Is it perfect? Not even. Life is never perfect for any of us, despite all of our best efforts to disguise it as such. In fact, part of what I would argue makes my life so beautiful are the moments in which I’ve struggled. The totality of my human experience is what makes me, well, me. 

I want to talk about this as I believe it is becoming an actual threat to our minds and the psychological health of younger generations. Most of us have begun to hand-select the most idealistic moments of our lives to share while hiding the rest, you know, the parts we deem unworthy. Let me make this point clear — sharing the happiest moments of life is beautiful. It’s a wonderful thing that social media has allowed us the ability to stay connected to those we love and share our most precious moments with others. In a world filled with so much hate we need to share love. We need to see love and happiness now more than ever. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the underbelly of Instagram and the trappings of social media. What effect does a daily barrage of scenes from other people’s lives actually have on our minds? How does it affect the way we see ourselves? What is it doing to our self-esteem? How is it affecting the way we determine our self-worth? Are the constant comparisons robbing us of our ability to be happy within our own lives?

My hope is that as we begin to open up this dialogue and seek answers to these questions more people will start to see how falsified the depictions of others’ lives often are. Most of us dare not share or discuss our actual day-to-day realities. We don’t discuss our fears, our struggles or the things that keep us awake at night. We don’t open up about unhealthy relationships or mention our failures. Instead, we steadily curate a timeline of gloriously depicted moments that infiltrate the minds of those who follow us. In turn, those followers scroll through our profiles envisioning a picture-perfect life that metaphorically speaking, shits all over theirs. 

I really want to discuss this because until recently I was a willing participant in this game. As a model and someone who also subjects myself to public scrutiny, I too began to cave to the pressure I didn’t even realize I was under. What most people will not realize by looking at my profile is how much of what is shared has been carefully crafted and often times photographed over and over to get the perfect shot. Let me give you an example.

This photo of me hiking, innocent and candid as it may seem, had at least 12 other versions taken with nearly identical facial expressions and poses. These seemingly candid moments were becoming productions in and of themselves. Each one depicting a moment in my life that appeared “effortless” and let me tell you... they weren't. I don’t share what I look like when I’m sick with a 24 hour stomach flu. I don’t share my face covered with tears while I’m heartbroken and lovesick. I don’t post about the argument I got in with my best friend. The one that broke us up and still haunts me as I scroll past her photos on Instagram. All I see is her beautiful life. Does it haunt her too? I’m not sure… but she looks happy.  

Since starting my business I have worked with some top faces in both the modeling and entertainment industries and damn near every one of those celebrities and social media influencers have also succumbed to this pressure. The pressure to portray the most interesting and beautiful life. These are the people that the general public seeks in order to find out the status quo. The problem with this and our daily dependence on social media is that everyone is faking.  

Let me repeat that in French. Everyone is bullshitting.

It’s become a competition of “whose life is better?” Everyone is painting a picture. I went to my friend’s bachelorette party and before heading out to a group dinner we literally had a stranger take over 10 photos of us at various angles outside the restaurant because the shot had to be just right. Otherwise we can’t post it — and if you can’t post it then it basically didn’t even happen. One of my other friends has a clothing line that looks incredible online. In photos she appears confident, totally put together and happy. When I saw her last I asked her how business was going and with an honest admission she told me things weren’t going too well, the business was slow. She said she was nervous and felt as if she needed more help promoting her brand. She was exhausted with all of it. I was astonished. How could I have been so unaware of her struggle? I am guilty of relying on social media to check in on friends and family as opposed to picking up the phone to find out what’s really going on with them. However I also blame this on the way everyone is representing themselves online. In 2017 appearances are everything and it seems as if we’ve lost touch with the reasons why we wanted to be so connected with each other in the first place. This scares me. It scares me because I have recently noticed how deep we’ve gotten in this facade and from a business standpoint I find myself in a great paradox. The illusion sells. It really does. People wouldn’t be such willing participants if we couldn’t monetize it. That guy’s perfect abs coincide with that brand’s nutrition supplement. That breakfast in Bali? It was provided totally gratis by the hotel (so long as you post it and tag them). And on and on it goes, more money online = grander illusions on social media. At least with traditional advertising you know when you're being sold something. Social media can be insidious because so often it's users don't realize they're being deceived.

We're being shown an augmented version of reality and the vulnerable minds of today’s youth are eating it up. We now have a country full of teenagers who truly believe that happiness is built upon the eyes of their peers and how “likeable” their lives are. Many of them do not feel worthy, I know this because I'm related to some. With bullying a rampant issue and more and more kids becoming statistics, we've got to start thinking about the root causes of their shame and where these comparisons are really coming from. We have become a society seeking approval from strangers on the quality of our existences. We’re raising a new generation of people that will have a skewed perception of what truly unites us as human beings — the human experience. The real human experience, laced with highs and lows, successes and failures, happiness and sadness and all things in between. I’m not sure what the solution is, and perhaps that’s why I’m writing this tonight, so I can hear your thoughts and perhaps start to find a solution. I just got a new tattoo and it reads, “what each person possesses is beautiful” and I know this. My promise to my readers and to myself is that from this moment on I will do my best to showcase a more authentic version of myself and my life in hopes that it sparks the desire for someone else to live freely. Hopefully more of us will begin to find the beauty in our own lives and cease trying to attain someone else's version of it.

Let's live unapologetically.

-R