The Unfiltered Picture We Already Live In

Originally published Saturday, 30 November 2013.

How can I feel envious of someone I haven’t seen in years (if even at all)? How can a picture, taken on someone’s phone, make me feel that I am missing something? How can discontentment rise out of something as small as a facebook status?

I have three rules while using Pinterest: 1) Start from a place of contentment, otherwise stay away. 2) Just because she can do it (and wants to do it), doesn’t mean I have to 3) Don’t forget about all the things that can’t be seen in that delicately balanced little picture. Truthfully, these rules should be applied to interaction with all forms of media.

It used to be that only magazines had airbrushed, filtered photos. I now have the ability to take a picture of the dumpster behind my apartment and make it look like a work of art using a couple built in tricks on my phone. Family pictures were once taken on a simple camera with film to be developed. However they came out, that’s how they were. No edits or retakes. Hiring a professional meant throwing together some matching outfits and heading to the Sear’s studio on a Saturday.

Don't misunderstand. I LOVE the choices we have now. If I could hire a professional photographer to follow my family around every Friday, I would without hesitation. The ability to capture the best moments in a single frame is a gift! Those quick breaks in the chaos when everyone is happy and present...each picture represents such memories. So please hear me when I say that they are good, but my mind can use them to play tricks on me. It's not about what other people's about how I process what they say. Because when I see the pictures and read the updates, I tend to forget the things I cannot see.

Allow me to demonstrate. Here is a picture of my boys as we left for Thanksgiving lunch. Happy. Clean. Laughing. Clothed.

Do you know how many pictures I took to get ONE where they were both smiling and somewhat looking at me? And let’s just talk about the ten minutes I chased my toddler around the apartment trying to dry his hair while he screamed “no mommy! no!”…

Perhaps your newsfeed has been flooded with beautiful shots of savory meals and colorful tables. Let us not forget that this is what the kitchen looks like behind all those pictures (photo taken of my sink AFTER two loads of dishes)…

I don’t post pictures at 4:00 AM when I’ve already been up three times with my six month old who, yes, still doesn’t sleep through the night. I don’t post pictures of me doing the ugly cry in the car when I think about my boys growing up. I don’t post facebook statuses from the bathroom as I rush to clean the toilet because our family has arrived for dinner and I remember that someone other than my husband and me will actually being using it.

The pictures…the tweets…the status updates…they don’t always give us the sharp taste of dirty realness in everyone else’s lives. If we think beyond what we can see, we might reinterpret some common posts…

“Major dinner fail = pizza with my love!” could also read, “house smells like burnt flesh and I cried while throwing away $30 worth of groceries.”

“Snuggled up with kids watching Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving by the fire!” could be followed up with, “kids quit after 10 minutes…they are now chasing each other and screaming…husband and I are fighting about who should put them to bed.”

Picture of an ultrasound next to a pregnant belly could easily carry the caption, “14 weeks…you think I’m glowing? That’s sweat because I just finished throwing up.”

We know this is reality, but occasionally, we forget that everyone else is living in the same reality as us. And when we forget how real everyone else’s lives actually are, we become disillusioned with our own stories. Somehow our lives begin to feel unusually ordinary, and we may buy into this idea that others are living a pinterest board life we dream of but cannot attain. As if they exist in some sort of instagram utopia, while we scrape by in a world of dirty dishes, backed up toilets, and uncooperative children. And from this place, we become discontent.

We are all living in the same unfiltered picture; full of earth, tears, sweat, pain, joy, fear, and mystery. Their life is just as gritty and bland as yours. And your life is just as beautiful, complex and exciting as theirs.