Thoughts on Authenticity.

I used to follow this blogger on Instagram…someone who had stopped blogging and the only contact I had with her life was through instagram. I found myself really hating her photos because her whole family and their home looked like they were pulled off a Pottery Barn catalog – even when they were doing things outdoors! How did they stay so clean? And did her sons even own t-shirts? And did her daughter have 50 pairs of shoes? Her daughter and my daughter were the same age and it was at a time when my daughter insisted on dressing herself, but she was 4 and so she always looked like an insane hobo. I would look at this woman’s pictures of her daughter and think, Surely she’s still dressing her daughter, right? There’s no way her daughter dresses that cute on her own!

And her home was impeccably decorated and she looked 10 years younger than me even though she was older and…and…and…you get the picture.

This was several years ago, about the time the term “authentic” started getting mainstream use. It was an idea I loved – that we should try to be ourselves on social media – and not try to pretty up our lives because then we would not make real connections.

So, I unfollowed her many moons ago and told myself it was because she wasn’t being authentic like I was.

Since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we use the term authenticity and that lately it tends to equate to photographing our messy homes and tweeting about going to the grocery store in our houseshoes and admitting our kids are sometimes assholes. AND I HAVE LOVED THIS. Because all of those things apply to my life and I don’t feel ashamed anymore! Look! There’s enough dog hair along the baseboards to created a sweater! My kid is wearing shorts in December like an idiot! My daughter just rolled her eyes at me! I AM AUTHENTIC!

But then a few weeks ago someone on a parenting site wrote an essay where she got authentic about how her kids aren’t in the gifted program and how that was okay and too many parents were talking about their gifted kids and the subtext was parents with “gifted” kids are not authentic.

And I was torn because I totally get it. I hate the word “gifted” so much because it comes with so many connotations. And I know people who throw it around like it’s a badge of honor. I – on the other hand – call my daughter’s school by the acronym, or I sometimes just even refer to the bigger public school it’s a part of, “It’s the magnet program at Blah-Blah-Blah middle school.” I never call it by it’s full name because it has the word “gifted” in the title and it makes me cringe.

But man…I’m authentic, right? Should I be ashamed that my daughter has been called “gifted” by someone?

And then this week I saw someone rant about the inauthenticity of these perfectly decorated and clean homes on instagram and she was celebrating her chaotic mess. And I get it: THIS IS THE SAME THING I UNFOLLOWED SOMEONE FOR YEARS AGO. But suddenly I started thinking of friends and family – people not even on instagram – who live in those kind of homes. People who just like decorating and people who find order in cleaning and people who I know personally – are very true in these traits. This is just them. I have friends and family who you could walk into their homes at any time and they’d be PERFECT. And while it makes me uneasy having them in my own home, I know these people well enough to know that this is really them. They aren’t doing it for show. Order and cleanliness and beauty in decor calms them. In order for their home to fell…like home…they need to look a certain way and be clean and orderly.

But that doesn’t make them any less authentic.

I don’t know. I do honestly believe there are people who doctor up their lives for social media. But I think in this craze to celebrate authenticity, we forget that some people are authentic in clean and orderly ways. Some people talk about their gifted kids…authentically. It’s like we have someone turned “authentic” into a synonym for “chaotic and messy and imperfect” which allows no room for people to be authentic AND have a clean home, or a well-dressed kid, or perfectly applied makeup.

I take a picture of my frizzy hair and blotchy skin and fuzzy slippers walking around Target and I’m being “authentic” but somehow the women in the leather boots and shiny smooth hair and fake eyelashes is not? I know people who would go to Target just like that and who would be AUTHENTIC about it.

I don’t know…I’m just rethinking how we’ve been praising authenticity lately and how maybe – we’re shaming people who might actually live authentic lives with clean children and perfectly contoured makeup. Why can’t that be their form of authenticity?

8 thoughts on “Thoughts on Authenticity.

  1. Carrie says:

    I so totally get this. My oldest kid is in the gifted program, and I always feel like I’m bragging when I talk about it (even though I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging!). It actually makes me feel slightly guilty, because I don’t want people to think that *I* think he’s better than their kids.

  2. As a parent with kids in both, it’s sometimes important to remember that Gifted education is usually a part of the Special Education department in most districts.

    Both are just different names for Individualized Education.

    Perhaps we should drop both labels and spend the money to give every child an individualized education. On average, it would increase our education budgets by about $500-$1000 per child. (Huntsville spends about $10,000 per child now.)

  3. Julie says:

    Thanks for this post. We are always swinging on the pendulum aren’t we? first one way? then the other? Why is it so hard as humans to be accepting? It only causes suffering when we compare in either direction.
    Thanks again.

  4. Becky says:

    Oh, I struggle with the gifted thing too. My son is in a gifted program that comes with an IEP that mandates 3 hours a week of outside the classroom enrichment. It’s a lot of time, and his very favorite, so of course it comes up in conversation a lot with friends and family. And I initially try to dodge the G word, because it does feel braggy/weird, and people don’t always understand the difference between gifted and just really smart.
    Because it sounds even more braggy/weird when you have to explain that having a gifted kid is challenging, and it doesn’t mean he’s always a great student, and he needs the outside classroom time to function normally in a regular setting the rest of the time.
    So I just explain he’s on an IEP, but then people have that look in their eye like they’re questioning what he’s been diagnosed with and then I do the no, no, no, he’s doesn’t have a delay, he’s gifted, and then I feel like an asshole for feeling the need to clarify. Ugh. It’s hard to be authentic when your reality, at least in that specific situation, is maybe a little more shiny than everyone else’s.

  5. Lucy McConville says:

    I LOVE THIS POST!!!!!

    I couldn’t sleep night before last because my house is such a mess…still all the chaos of Christmas morning, and preparing the Christmas dinner (but took it over to my Mom’s, no one came HERE.) Still the chaos of last minute wrapping. Still the chaos of just life in general during the busy couple weeks before Christmas. I literally could not sleep, it was bothering me so much. AND NO ONE IS COMING OVER! AND I’M NOT PLANNING TO TAKE ANY PHOTOS! I just can’t stand the chaos…just for ME.

    Most especially during times of stress. I will say that I realize it is somewhat pathological at times…like yesterday when I was in The Dollar Store and was sad I couldn’t just pretend to be an employee for an hour and neaten up the aisle with the office and school supplies. I thought about how relaxing that would be for me. Lol.

    I think I probably need to do a jigsaw puzzle soon.

    Happy New Year!

  6. Samantha says:

    This made me think of a discussion I recently read elsewhere about being “effortless”. Like, it’s not enough to be beautiful, or thin, or good at your job or a sport, our society values those things more if they appear effortless. A “natural” beauty is valued more than someone who obviously uses a lot of makeup. A kid who can pick up the guitar and play right away is valued more than someone who has spent years trying to learn. And so on. Which is weird given that our society also supposedly values hard work. Anyway, what I think is missing from social media posts isn’t authenticity; it’s the effort. That picture of a beautifully made-up woman doesn’t show you the expense of all her cosmetics, the time spent acquiring them, or the time spent learning how to apply them. Likewise, the photo of the perfectly curated living room doesn’t show the time and money involved in making it so. The /intention/ of the person, which would speak to authenticity, isn’t what’s missing; it’s the effort. It looks effortless because we are seeing a finished product, and maybe we don’t have the skills to replicate it because we haven’t spent the time and the money to learn those things. So, we feel bad because we can’t effortlessly do the same things as the person we are comparing ourselves to. I don’t think we should worry so much about conveying our intentions, or interpreting the intentions of others (this is a “real” photo; this is a “staged” photo). I think maybe understanding that it all takes effort, and we all expend our efforts on different things, is more important.
    That said, do some people still dress their kids on up into elementary school? Because I’m like you. My daughter always looks thrown away and other kids so put together. 🙂

  7. Being authentic is being who you really are. If you like to dress up to go to Target, then do so. If going to Target requires putting underwear on with what you wore to be- thats OK too. Not being authentic would be doing anything just to impress others and so they are so impressed they tell others. As for gifted, your child earned it. if the subject is kids and what they are doing in school, by all means tell them about the fun things she has accomplished

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