It used to be that magazines set the unrealistic standard for beauty in our lives. Now, that has sort of shifted... to Instagram. All types of people curate perfect versions of themselves on social media that do not actually reflect their real life. And one mom, Jen Flint, witnessed this image cultivation in real time one day when she was at the pool with her kids.
In a viral Facebook post, Jen writes that while she was at the pool, she saw "a young Mama and her little daughter enter the pool area dressed in very nice coordinating swimming suits." The mom proceeded to talk to her friend loudly on the phone while her daughter waited to get into the pool. After the phone call was over, Mom set up the perfect, Instagrammable scene: matching towel, pool toys arranged just so, and sunscreen laid out nicely. Instead of letting her daughter get into the pool and playing with her, mom snapped photos of the two of them posing, a perfect picture of fun.
But, Jen argues, the reality was much different. The little girl played in the water for a few minutes alone while mom talked to another friend on the phone. The girl repeatedly asked her mom to join her in the pool. "She was ignored," Jen writes. A mere 10 minutes later, "Mama ended her call, collected the sunscreen that was never applied, the water toys that never touched the water, and then her daughter and left the pool."
Jen writes, "I sat there thinking about what I'd witnessed for awhile afterwards. I imagined the photos she took being perfectly edited and posted to social media with a caption like, 'Pool time with my girly! #makingmemories.
"Somewhere another Mama is going to be at home with her children, the house a mess from their play, her hair unruly from a day of mothering and her clothes dirty with spit up or peanut butter. She's going to be tired because she's spent her day cooking, caring, cleaning and playing with her children. She's going to look at that photo and she is going to compare herself to the perfect Mama at the pool. The Adversary is going to whisper into her ear "you aren't good enough... You don't look like that Mama at the pool..."
Jen implores us to recognize that "what we see on social media isn't always real. Sometimes and often it's a complete set-up." She tells other moms not to compare themselves to what they see on social media because it's all a façade. "Your dirty shirt and messy house and your happy children are real and they are proof that you are doing it right!"
Jen's post completely blew up. With more than 200,000 reactions and 140,000 shares, it was easy to tell that Jen's words affected parents and others everywhere. In the comments, so many people thanked her for her words and relished the reminder that what you see on social media is there because that's what people want you to see. None of it is the whole picture.
"This is absolutely spot on," one commenter wrote. I'm the mom with the mismatched bathing suit, hair is pulled up and looking at the moms who are put together so much more than I am. I spend so much time feeling like I'm not enough. This post is awesome! I'm glad I'm the one in the pool! Even with my messy hair and mismatched bathing suit."
While so many people were grateful for Jen's post and knew exactly what she was trying to say, some believed that in the process of trying to encourage some moms, she shamed another. One commenter wrote, "I understand what you are trying to say with this post, but honestly I can't get past the fact that in trying to encourage moms, you have inadvertently confirmed a lot of other mothers' anxiety: 'If I see you out in public and you are off your mom game for 10 minutes, I will publicly shame and judge you for it on social media.' You have no idea what kind of parent this woman is based on your 10-minute observation of her, and yet you have held her up on social media as an example of bad parenting for thousands of people to comment on."
The commenter continued, "Yes, we shouldn't judge ourselves based on what we see on social media, but we also shouldn't judge other people based on a 10-minute view of their lives. This is why so many women feel the need to portray themselves as having it all together."
I understand what this commenter is getting at. In trying to remind people that what we see on social media is curated, it can seem like Jen is criticizing that mom for curating a life on social media at all and holding those that don't to a higher value.
But Jen's follow-up post makes it clear that she never meant to judge the mom in the scenario. All she was aiming to do was to remind people that when you're scrolling through Instagram, you're only seeing a snapshot. Not the whole picture of any situation.
"I, in no way, meant to shame or judge this pool Mama for her actions," Jen writes. "I don't know why she behaved the way she did and honestly I don't care. I'm sure she had her reasons. We all do. She is just a Mama doing her best too. Shaming her was not what my post was about. I was not pointing fingers. I was not insinuating that I was better than her. I was not pinning stay-at-home moms against working moms. I was not shaming anyone for taking photos of themselves or their children... Please don't hate on others for doing things differently."
She continues, "The sole intent of my post and what I hope you take away from it is this... The beautiful, perfect, filtered photos that pass by our eyes as we scroll on social media are not a full depiction of real life... Is there harm in taking photographs of those moments and sharing them? No! Y'all know that I do it too. The ONLY take-away that I intended...is not to compare your whole self and your whole life to one perfect moment that you see on social media."