The dark side of Instagram

A reminder from artist Chris Piascik

At the beginning of this week I went to London to met up with the cool mums of Instagram. You know the ones: super trendy, houses chock-full of arty stuff, kids wrapped in layers of contemporary designer clothes. It was a decadent, boozy affair, filled with beautiful food and beautiful people. While I tried (and failed) to schmooze amidst chat of cool interiors, cool fashion, and cool London-type-stuff, my children were navigating a series of complex tunnels in the garden filled with water and electric eels. Every so often their ear piercing screams punctuated the talk of celebrity friends and second homes in Europe.

Surreal, no? Well, that, dear reader, was one of my recent wacko dreams, and a snapshot into my twisted mind. Now, I’m no dream psychologist (who is? Seriously, who?) but I think my anxieties were shouting at me loud and clear: I’m trying and failing to fit in and be ‘successful’, I’m stressing about doing the working mum-juggle alongside life’s current ridiculous challenges, and I’m worrying that my children are having to battle way too hard with my metaphorical demons.

It’s tough chez littleeandbean right now. The stress levels ratcheted up earlier this year, and we’ve been living on a knife-edge ever since. It was partly because of the stress (and to take time to write my book) that I made a concerted effort to take a break from blogging. I figured if I wasn’t throwing my stream of consciousness into the bloggersphere I wouldn’t a) be making myself vulnerable and b) boring you all with my incessant whining. Best laid plans and all that. As it turns out my whining still made it onto the internet via Instagram. What can I say? To me there’s nothing quite as healing (bar counselling, but, you know: money) as writing my worries away. I call it #instacatharsis.

so very true.

Instagram is (in part) a wonderfully supportive community of people who share the good, the bad and the ugly in their lives. I love it. Oh so much. I follow a mix of people. Friends, family, and strangers. There are the mums I totally relate to who share honest snapshots of their children, hangovers, funny moments, tough moments, the beautiful and not so beautiful things that make up their lives. There are the celeb mums (hi there! Kate Hudson and Jools Oliver) and the celeb non-mums (hey! Lena Dunham and *massive girl crush* Samira Wiley) whose worlds I’m still amazed I can excitedly peek into. There are the American Mormon mums with the picture perfect wholesome lives that I’ve been borderline obsessed with for years (they were the first mum blogs I read). And there are the achingly cool mums, with successful businesses, a whole heap of money, and lives that photograph like works of art.

I love Instagram for the way it allows me to tune into someone else’s day. When you’re juggling screaming kids, a demanding job and a mountain of stress, that momentary connection and escapism is priceless. But my nutso dream-slash-nightmare has got me thinking. Instagram has its downsides. So much of my time is spent pouring over other peoples lives that the aspirational stuff is starting to eat away at me. I’ll probably always be too poor/busy/more interested in other things to ever be the mum who spends much time on fashion (mine or the kids), or has a house kitted out with the latest designer gear, and the logical, conscious part of my brain knows that’s just fine. But the insecure part of me feels a pang of envy when I see perfect homes dripping with beautiful things, mums who look as though they’ve been put together each morning by a stylist, children who have all year tans from escaping to the sunshine each month.

I’ve a friend who refuses to use social media, and in a world where social networking has become a cultural currency, I think she lives a pretty unique experience. She thinks Facebook and the like are toxic; pervading every inch of public and private life, to the extent that it’s increasingly difficult for those who choose not to belong. Until fairly recently I thought she was missing a trick. I mean, how could anyone not love the way the world opens up online? But as time goes on I’m starting to think she might have been right all along. She doesn’t waste precious time comparing herself to strangers, she doesn’t bare her soul and then cringe every so often at the thought of it, she’s inspired by the things she can see and touch and hear and the people she can talk to outside her phone, in the real world.

My odd dreams make me wonder whether this darker side of Instagram is a feminist issue. What starts out for many women as a place to share, guide, console, advise, and record, can often become yet another part of life riddled with judgement and insecurity. We all know that snapshots of the prettiest part of a room, the happiest moment in a family day out, or a carefully angled selfie, aren’t measures of success, yet they can make us feel inadequate as women and mothers, particularly during our lowest moments.

The reality is we are all making a conscious decision about what we share online – some of us choose to share our demons, others would rather construct a happier world. But all of us are made of bigger stuff than the photos, tweets, blogs and statuses that form our online identity. Our histories, relationships and emotions make us complex creatures, yet we fall easily and deeply into the trap of comparing ourselves to the half truths others share. To be truly happy we have to invest much more in the world beyond our screens.

What do you think – am I blowing my neuroses out of all proportion, or is there a darker side to Instagram? And is it a feminist issue?

Yes, this.  A Thrifty Mrs PIN OF THE DAY

The cave

I stopped everything to write. I switched off the biggest distractions, reined myself in, and poised my pen. Unfortunately life didn’t get the memo about my book, so I’m hunkering down and writing poetry until this storm passes. The book is waiting.

Outside my cave, coffee steam
whirls around faraway eyes,
and fingers tap dance
atop flickering screens.

This cafe is rhythmic
with people and noise, and music
that skips from melancholy
to euphoria without pause.

I sat here with my firstborn.
Perfect and perfectly round.
So many plans.
So much joy it hurt.

I sat here with my second.
He grew despite my battles
and cracked body
and the fog that hung heavy.

And now, instead of writing
myself free, I sit here stuck
in a loop of cryptic stanzas,
waist deep in cloying uphill battles.

I hunch in a corner of my cave,
all jagged edges and sleeping bears.
My fists are tight with fear and full
of crumpled men from my past.

I’d hoped by now the fog would have lifted.
I’d hoped for more than shadows of forms,
of tiptoeing between broken things,
of whispering so there’s no echo.


WhiteCellarDoor on Etsy

Why I’ll be saying bye to blogging

The problem with blogging

Thankfully I’ve not (yet) had the writer’s block that seems to plague so many bloggers. I’m a magpie and see writing inspiration everywhere, whether it be during a conversation with J, in the book I’m reading, on news sites, on Twitter, on blogs, or in the latest debate whizzing through my Facebook feed.

My problem is that I have too much I want to write about. That fire in my belly that makes me want to hide away and type all night never goes out. I have vast lists, scribbled hurriedly in notebooks and on scraps of paper, on topics I want to blog about. But working and being mummy to two energetic little boys means I’m often too busy to blog, and that lack of time has been nagging away at me recently.

Time for a break

My long summer break has just ended, which heralds the end of manageable daily life. Within the next few weeks I’ll start working an infeasible number of hours each day. I love my job, but I hate that it makes writing (and any other hobby) near impossible.

Fortunately I’m stubborn enough and smart/selfish enough to know that I have to indulge my passions or I’ll go mad. So, somehow (usually by typing away on WordPress at silly o’clock on school nights) I’ve managed to keep my blogs going. But this year is a different kettle of fish, because I’ve started to write a book, and after doing the maths I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll lose the plot if I try to juggle everything. Look, I did the maths:

1 job that keeps me working until 11pm ish each night + 1 mummy blog + 1 blog on religious and cultural misogyny + 1 book on religious misogyny + 2 children + 1 husband = *crazy eyes x infinity*

To be honest, I’m not managing to juggle everything now. With so little time I’ve become hopeless at replying to comments. I’m incapable of churning out quick replies and I hate that readers might think I’m rude or disinterested in their opinions. So, as the lack of time has already turned me into a bit of a rubbish blogger, I’ve decided to hang up my blogging hat (temporarily) while I focus on my book. I’m not sure I’ll manage to go cold turkey on posting updates about the boys, but after speaking to Amanda Jennings at Britmums Live this year I realise I need to at least give it a go. Amanda is full of great advice for budding writers, but the most pertinent thing she said to me was that once I felt ready to start my book I needed to take a break from social media. As soon as she said it I knew she was right. Twitter, blogging and Facebook are just too much of a distraction, and I’m too much of a procrastinator and (forgive me for sounding arrogant) I think my book is too important (to me at least) to write half-heartedly.

Toni Morrison "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then YOU must write it."

The book

I’ve not mentioned my book much on here, mainly because it’s an extension of my other blog rather than this space. However, a couple of weeks ago I had an email from Sophie asking if I’d like to take part in a virtual blog tour for bloggers with writing projects on the go. Sophie is living my dream. She’s an ex teacher who left work to raise her little boy and write. As well as working on her second book, a chick noir, she blogs about her family and her writing journey (which involves writing 1500 words a day!…*awestruck face*). I was so flattered when Sophie asked me to join her with the virtual blog tour. Not only am I in amazing company, but it’s a brilliant way to discover other writers, and I figured it would also be a good opportunity for me to refocus and explain why I’ll soon be disappearing from social media.

So, here’s my contribution to this virtual blog tour for writers -

What am I working on? A non fiction book about my past. As a teenager I was forced to convert to Islam and after the ‘conversion’ I experienced (and witnessed many other women experiencing) years of religiously sanctioned misogyny. After falling in love with a non-Muslim I was disowned and forced to leave my home and family. In the years since I’ve pieced together a new, autonomous, identity. My book will tell the specifics of my story but it will also reflect more widely on how the female experience can be limited by religious patriarchy.

How does my work differ from others in the genre? In researching for my book I’ve discovered lots of great writing about women who’ve escaped religious control and misogyny, but they tend to be written by or about people who were born into the religion. I’m not aware of any books about women forced into converting to Islam, as I was.

There’s a dearth of first-hand representation regarding religious misogyny. This results in a disconnect between the reality of being controlled and abused by religious patriarchy, and the stories being told. My book will offer an alternative to faceless, academic analysis of religious misogyny. It will discuss, honestly, the emotional (and sometimes physical) manipulation that occurs in the context of forced conversion, as well as the reality of living under extreme patriarchy, and with conflicting cultural identities.

It might sound an unusual story, but it’s certainly not unique. Islam attracts large numbers of converts each year and, if what I witnessed is anything to go by, there are other women (and men) who are emotionally corralled or trapped into Islam, by parents or partners.

Why do I write what I do? Initially I started to write as therapy. I spent years consumed with guilt over my decision to leave my family, but writing has allowed me sift and sort through the emotional debris of my past. Writing has taught me that I had every right to want more out of my life than being an automaton, that I have the right to feel angry about the way I was treated and about the years of lost opportunities, and most importantly that I have every right to talk about my past.

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 21 Things No One Will Tell You As a Writer (But Someone Probably Should)

I also write in the hope that I might be able to help others. And that’s not an entirely selfless act. If, all those years ago, I had come across a book like the one I’m writing, it would have started the healing process so much earlier. I would have found my voice before having my own family and it would have saved a lot of people a lot of heartache. I want to help those isolated by ‘sacred’ or cultural misogyny to feel less alone, so that they have the confidence to demand their freedom.

Lastly, I write because I know that human rights are being abused by those at the helm of organised religion (men). I passionately believe that any religious practice involving emotional or physical coercion, patriarchy, prejudice, or discrimination must be ripped apart for analysis – there can be no sacred cows. And women need to talk honestly about their experiences, because if we don’t rock the boat with truth, misogynistic attitudes and behaviours can’t be dismantled.

What is my writing process? I’m an impulsive writer and not particularly organised, but once I decided to write my book I knew I needed a more methodical approach, so I allocated time during the summer to plan my chapters, put them in order using Scrivener and fill them with notes.

In terms of writing software, I flit between the Evernote app on my phone and Scrivener. Evernote is so user-friendly, it syncs with all my other devices and I can use it whenever I have my phone to hand. Scrivener is a pretty slick programme that gives you complete control over formatting, but there’s no app so I don’t find it as practical as Evernote, especially as I tend to write in snatches – 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there – on my phone. My writing process is far from ideal and I often get frustrated at not having longer stretches of time to sit down and organise my ideas, but with two small children and a job, I’ve got to work with what I have.

The next stop on this virtual blog tour will introduce you to Naomi and Gosia…

Naomi is a good friend and blogger who has written a chick-lit book about a woman called Daisy who struggles with her weight and the way she is perceived by others. Initially Daisy lets these issues shape her life and she becomes a virtual recluse, preferring to bury her feelings under a mountain of doughnuts, rather than deal with them. It takes a new friend Pixie, a young gay girl, to show her that life is exactly what you make of it, and Daisy sets out to prove that big can be beautiful and that life is too short to spend time worrying about what others think of you. Naomi’s book is finished and has been painstakingly edited and sent to a few agents. She’s now mustering up the courage to send it out to more and to possibly self publish as an eBook.

I ‘met’ Gosia through social networking. I follow her and her beautiful boy on Instagram, and recently we got talking on Twitter about a book she’s writing. It’s about her experience of moving from Poland to the UK and finding her way in a new country, in more than just a political or economical sense. I think her perspective on the culture shift that comes with starting a family in a new country will be fascinating. Gosia and I seem to be at a similar stage in the writing process – both excited that we’ve started to write, but a little overwhelmed with juggling it alongside looking after our kids.

I’m going to end with some encouragement (verging on fantasy) to other hopeful writers out there. Take a look at these bestselling books that were initially rejected, oh and this is pretty wonderful. There’s hope for us yet, right?!

^^ The writers mind ^^