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?