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.
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?